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Who are the Nazarenes, and why they were considered the most mysterious movement of artists in the name of spirituality

A group of retired art Academies in Vienna occupy an abandoned building in Rome and gain a reputation for their non-standard artistic innovations and unusual appearance (mantle, sandals and long hair). They are now known as the”Nazarenes”. How did the innovative movement try to change the course of art history?
History of the fraternity

In 1809, disillusioned with the teaching methods of the Academy of fine arts in Vienna and the General state of German art, the German artist Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld organized together with his fellow artists a unified movement, the main goal of which was to revive the energetic and spiritual content in the religious genre of art. The Nazarenes believed that all art should serve a moral or religious purpose.The founders-sought to reform art by reviving historical and religious painting. The group also wanted to revive frescoes, medieval illuminated manuscripts, and early Renaissance works. Demonstrating its rejection of Neoclassicism (believing that its followers had abandoned religious ideals in favor of artistic virtuosity), the brotherhood was the first effective anti-academic movement in European painting.

The original members of the fraternity were six students of the Vienna Academy. Four of them, Friedrich Overbeck, Franz Pforr, Ludwig Vogel and Johann Conrad Hottinger, moved to Rome in 1810, where they occupied the abandoned monastery of Sant Isidoro. From 1810 to 1815, they worked together and led an almost monastic life. Later they were joined by Peter von Cornelius, Wilhelm von Schadow, and others.

Origin of the name
Despite the high goals of the movement, they were made famous … features of appearance. The Nazarenes got their name in 1817 thanks to the Austrian artist Joseph Anton Koch (1768-1839), a follower of Nicolas Poussin. The name was given to them because of their pious lifestyle, biblical clothing, and long hair. The nickname “alla nazarena” – the traditional name of a hairstyle with long hair, known from dürer’s self-portraits-stuck and eventually got into all the history books. The new Union also had alternative names: the Brotherhood of Saint Luke and the Guild of Saint Luke.

Goals of the movement
Their painting was based on early German romanticism, medieval and Patriotic art, but with a deep Christian mysticism and religion. Inspired by their Catholic faith, they believed that art should serve religious or moral purposes, and sought to return to the style of the German Renaissance under the direction of Albrecht dürer (1471-1528).
The Nazarene artists also sought to revive the original idealism of Italian trecento (1300-1400) and Quattrocento (1400-1500) paintings, imitating Italian artists such as Perugino, fra Angelico and Raphael. The influence of Baroque painting can also be seen in the works of the Nazarenes, which makes the movement style quite eclectic. In addition, they strongly believed in the dominance of drawing (what the Italians called “disingo”) over color (what the Italians called “colorito”).

The art of the Nazarenes, consisting mainly of religious subjects executed in the traditional naturalistic style, was, for the most part, unimpressive. It is characterized by crowded compositions, excessive attention to detail, and a lack of coloristic or formal vitality. Nevertheless, their goal of honestly expressing deeply felt ideals had an important influence on subsequent movements, especially the English pre-Raphaelites of the mid-nineteenth century.
The Nazarenes also believed that the mechanical routine of the academic system could be avoided by returning to the more traditional system of teaching in the medieval workshop. For this reason, they worked and lived together in a semi-monastic existence.
The Patriotic spirit led the fraternity to focus on historical painting (representing scenes from German history, both real and fictional), but they were also very fond of religious art (biblical scenes from the old and New Testaments), as well as allegorical themes (like the pre-Raphaelites).
Fresco
One of the main goals of the group was the revival of monumental murals. They were lucky enough to receive two important commissions: the frescoes of Casa Bartholdi (1816-17) and the casino Massimo (1817-29) in Rome, which attracted international attention to their movement. By the time the Casino Massimo murals were completed, all but Overbeck had returned to Germany, and the group disbanded.
The disintegration of the movement and the legacy
As a single movement, the Nazarenes disbanded in the 1820s, but the views of individual representatives continued to influence the visual arts until 1850. Peter Cornelius moved to Bavaria and worked on a series of frescoes in the Ludwigskirche, including a version of the Last judgment that is larger than Michelangelo’s counterpart in the Sistine chapel. Later, Cornelius became the rector of the Academy of arts in Dusseldorf and Munich, becoming an influential figure in German painting of the XIX century.
If Cornelius was a particular enthusiast in the historical genre of art, Friedrich Overbeck-arrogant and active-wrote almost exclusively religious works. His most famous painting – “the miracle of the roses” of Saint Francis (1829, Porziuncola Chapel, S. Maria degli Angeli, Assisi). His workshop has rightfully become the main meeting place for artists in Rome.

Panels, paintings and frescoes by Nazarene artists can be seen in some of the best art museums in Europe.

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