The Corruption of German Romanticism.

The concept of sublime in landscape art of the nineteenth century German Romantic movement was generated by popular nationalistic views in nature, which became corrupted by the Roman ideal of utopia and develops into anti-Semitism. The German Romantics were perhaps misunderstood to be anti-Semitic, but a question needs to be asked here, as to whether the educated liberal property owners were a corruption of the idealistic Romantics and is the term Romantics a derogatory term created by industrialists to give the message that the Germanian ideal was unrealistic. The Romantics needed to show that the industrialist were not creating a better world by altering and manipulating it externally, they believed in creating the sublime from within themselves within nature, and the Jews were seen as those industrialists that threatened nature, but the liberal property owners were also an industrial threat and the Jews were just stiff competition to the property owners, so the liberal property owners implanted a nationalised focus in the German people using folklore, evolutionary pedagogy and art to create an ideal. The scientific rationalisation of nature prompted the German Romanticists to convey nature in the human psyche by building on the common value of Bismarck’s one German state. All these things were manipulated to nurture nationalism for the good of nature by the Romantics and for the destruction of economic competition for the liberal property owners. The Bialowieza forest became a national icon for the Romantic Movement on two levels.

In 1813 Bialowieza was taken by Russian troops after the burning of Moscow. Thirty thousand Polish Corps retreated across the Berezina River and only one-fifth of the entire Polish division of Napoleons Grande Armée survived. Then virtually all of Lithuania came under the rule of the Russian monarch and Bialowieza became the personal domain of the tsars, encompassing the ancient Bialowieza forest. Alexander I appointed Baltic Germans to the care of the forest, understanding that the forest was a huntsman’s paradise and that forestry had already become a known discipline. Administrators Plater and Henke hired German graduates from the ‘new forestry school in Warsaw in 1820’. Thus a periodical was published and became more than just a tool for the care of the forest, but became a quest for national identity. Natural history became the substitute for national history that nurtured Polish-Lithuanian heritage and German heritage. In an attempt to celebrate the native homeland of ancient Germania, scientific record and classification in topography, and flora and fauna became a Romantic cult of nature (Schama, 1995) which worked to preserve nature but at the same time exploit what nature had to offer.

Figure 1. Putzger, Historischer Atlas (1954). Map location of the Bialowieza Forest.

Bialowiza forest

Pictured in figure one is the location of the Bialowieza Forest and Figure two shows a pre-migration period of the Germanic tribes. The map allows one to visualise Germanian expansion from 100BC to the advancement of the Roman Empire in 117AD (Atlas,1951). The Bialowieza Forest becomes iconic to Old Germanian ideals, and is seen by the Russian monarch as untapped resources that needed to be categorized and monitored in order for them to get their fair share. The Jews had long ago become woodsmen and sort a living in many areas and became associated as gamesmen for the Royal Hunt. The treasurer-general of Lithuania, Antoni Tyzenhaus had placed regulations on peasants hunting in the forest to prevent the depletion of game stock for the monarchy (Schama, 1995).



Figure 2. Putzger, Historischer Atlas (1954), p. 24. ‎(600 × 436 pixels, file size: 94 KB, MIME type: image/png) .

germanian map

It becomes clear that the Germanic tribes coming from the North, would have encompassed the Bialowieza Forest and most of Poland, and expanded south while the Roman Empire pushed north (Atlas,1951). It is with understanding that two separate entities one wild and tribal living free and of the land, the other hierarchal structured and economic, continuously fighting a battle of ideals. The Jews were somewhere in between monarch and peasant, Roman and Germanian. The Romantics were also in between but argued for a free economy nurturing nature and mysticism. Stein (2001) mentions the divisions of the bourgeoisie in Wilhem Heinrich Riehl’s formation of scientific literary work “Volkskunde”, which reads of social differences and political contestation, the differences in customs of the corporate estates and cultural history. Though Reihl’s fails to fully understand the complexity of how literature, science, ideology and art interact to create a shared history. That shared history and difference is between nature and economics. Julius von Brinken (1789-1846) was caught between two ideals.

German born Julius von Brincken was raised in Poland and experienced in the lore of the forests, though he was surprised when he came to Bialowieza for German forests were long exploited. He wrote that it was ‘the very picture of ancient Sarmatia: a sylvan arcadia’ (pp.48-3). Von Brincken had not experienced such a vast botanical jumble, ‘perfectly imperfect, sublime and dreadful’ (Schama, 1995.pp.50-1). He observed the forest people that sustained themselves on an Arcadian life of hunting and gathering rather than support the drudgery of working in the fields, and in return for a minimum sum payed each year to the government, gamekeepers and foresters attached to the Royal hunt were allowed to take whatever game they wanted, but Von Brincken’s ideology was an economic one, despite his romantic sentimentality and believed the forester’s should not be allowed to take whatever they liked. Von Brincken believed that the science of forestry economics required the forest to be ordered into some kind of hierarchy. Over a long period of time, flora varieties would be massed together for efficient harvesting, as he expresses: ‘like variety would present themselves in tidy battalions ready for their marching orders’ (Schama, 1995. Pp.50-1). Therefore the chosen Polish Electors of Saxony, the kings of Poland, by the Russian government had to accept the end of the Royal hunt, but they were eager to share in the economic value of the forest .

Adam Mickiewicz (1798-1855) the poet saw how entwined two nations were and after the 1832 uprising in Poland against the tsar he wrote a gospel of national religion associating the Passion of Christ with Polish martyrdom and the ‘Old Lithuania on the brink of the modern world’ (Schama, 1995.pp30-31) and the Jews are stereotyped as mean unbelievers of Christ, with a disassociation with the ancient natural world.

figure 3. Caspar David Friedrich, Cross in the Mountains, oil on canvas, dimentions unknown. Galerie Neue Meister, Dresden, Germany. (Lev, 2015)

friedrich christ

Caspar David Friedrich who was brought up as a strict Lutheran sympathised with Mickiewicz with a series of paintings to this theme. ‘The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by hands” (Acts 17:24, cited in Lev, 2015). In his painting Cross on the Mountains shown in figure three, Christ is firmly mounted into the top of the mountain and supported by the fir trees, symbols to the strength in nature and the sacrifice of nature is also the sacrifice of man connecting the survival of man with the survival of nature. The sun rays are not shining down onto the Christ, but upward from earth, therefore placing heaven on earth.

After the 1848 failed revolution in Prussia Otto von Bismarck (1815-1898) worked to unite the German states to include the Jewish bourgeois.  Although he was a conservative and believed in a Christian state he preached anticlericalism, hated socialists and anarchists and wanted to encourage economic growth. He became the Prussian Prime minister from 1862 to 1890, and was the founder and chancellor of the German Empire (Barkin, 2015). By unifying the states under the Prussian Kaiser William I, Bismarck was able to manipulate the population using popular tactical concessions and success in foreign policy. He identified the forces after the 1848 revolution as to be confined to the educated liberal property owners of the middle class, and not the Prussian majority that were loyal monarchists of peasants and artisans. Bizmarck was able to establish the full emancipation of the Jewish bourgeois and the North German federation passed a law in July 1869, “All existing restrictions of civil and political rights, restrictions derived from the difference of religion, are hereby abolished. Especially the right of participating in the representation of the municipality and of the state, and of holding public office, shall be independent of the religious creed.” Bizmarck states:  “I shall never consent to any attempt at curtailing the constitutional rights of the Jews” (Poschinger, “Fürst Bismarck,” p. 227). So the Jewish urban administration was given jurisdiction and corporate status.

Cornelius Tacitus (A.D. 98) reveals in his Germania the primitive in German ancestry and Wilhelm Heinrich Riehl builds the foundations for cultural sciences with an ‘academic base of folklore’, pitched to a non-academic audience to the idea of a nation-state (Stein, 2001).  Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925) founded anthropomorphism and formed a solution (Adams, 1992) that separated the workings of the economy, legislative politics and culture with evolutionary pedagogy (Gidley, 2011).  Dumezil discovered social tripartite reaching as far back as the Roman and Sabine war (Strutynski, 1973). Also German Romanticist painters such as Caspar David Friedrich promoted an idealism that was steeped in ancient mysticism using landscape, and later in the twentieth century post WWII Joseph Beuys’s (1921-1986) attempted to “transformed verbal dialogue into energy dialogue”  (Adams, 1992) aimed at bettering society from within, and redirecting the true Romantic ideal in environmental preservation. German Romanticism was a philosophical movement that worked to better society with a pre-conditioning in emotional self-awareness (Mastin, 2008) within the natural world, but with all best intentions of creating a better society, by WWI and into WWII the Romantic Germanic ideal became corrupted by the Liberal Roman utopian ideal made out as Old Germania. Albert Speer’s, Hitler’s architect, worked to transform Berlin into Germania the new ‘World Empire’, which is far from the true German Romantic ideal of environmental mysticism (Moorhouse,2012).

Tacitus describes the Germanian tribes in Germania (A.D.98), as owning no arms, no horses and no homes. They live under networks of branches, dress only in skins, and men and women alike hunt with bow and arrow, eat grass, have only one mating partner and most importantly are autonomous. Yet they are deemed happier than those that ‘labour over fields, or sweat over building houses’ (Tacitus, A.D.98 p46). They care for nobody, man or God and as Tacitus states they have gained the ultimate release, because they have nothing to pray for. Tacitus finishes his analysis of the tribes with the lowliest, ‘Hellusii and Oxiones with faces and features of men, but the bodies and limbs of animals’. It is as if Tacitus as a Roman is stating that if one is without religion or governance and structure then one must be that of a beast. The beast is surely what Germany became, but it was not the Romantic ideal that created the beast, but it was the Roman ideal in riches and power that used Romantic value as a tool for corruption.


Roman economic culture seems to have worked to discredit Greek and German culture as far back as the ‘foundation of Rome in 753 BC’ (Plant, 2012.pp269) just as Mickiewicz attempts to stereotype the Jews, Tacitus stereotyped the Germans.  For an example; Pan was a Greek god of nature a God of shepherds, woods and pastures; he was demonised by Roman Catholicism though he was sometimes associated with Jesus, but mostly he was portrayed as a devilish fornicator (Swaim, 1971 and Plant, 2012). In Reinhart’s Rocky Landscape with Pan Playing his Flute (1808), we see Pan harmoniously seated in a clearing of a dense forest playing his flute. Ovid writes in The Tales of Midas: ‘Midas, no longer lured by dreams of riches, took to the woods, and became a nature-lover; he worshipped Pan… ‘(Ovid 303, in Hearne, 1998).

Figure 4.Rocky Landscape with Pan Playing His Flute ( In the park of the Villa Chigi, Ariccia), 1808. Johann Christian Reinhart 1761-1847 .

pan 1


The demonization of Pan is evident in Pompeii and the Herculaneum house in Naples. Pan is pictured in marble sculpture as not only bearing the legs of an animal, but is fucking a goat, and the beloved mythical hero Hercules is sculpted as a bloated drunken barbarian taking a piss. Therefore the mythical legends are demonised and discredited as animalistic barbarians. Although Pan was highly sexualized in much of Greek antiquity he was not demonic. Nineteenth century Romantics pictured Pan in images of consul to the mythical nymph Psyche, as in figure four, by Reinhold Begas (15 July 1831 – 3 August 1911). Pan symbol of nature is the nurturer of the human psyche. This is the bases of Adolf Steiners (1861-1925) Philosophy of freedom (Ullrich, 1994). The Romans pictured Pan, as a demon to be feared as he was the keeper of the forest and contradictory to Roman discipline in economic structure and hierarchal order as was Brinken and his Periodical of ‘Natural History’ (Evans, 2009). In demonising ones cultural heroes and surrounding nature, as something to be feared, it then becomes less valued and easily exploited.

Figure 5. Pan tröstet Psyche, 1857/1858, Alte Nationalgalerie, Berlin, erworben 1934.


pan and phsyche


Indo-European myth reflects the primeval struggle of light and dark, or economic and nature. Georges Dumezil, referrers to an ancient battle describing social tripartite as typological and genetic. He tells of Brothers Grimm Ludwig Uhland who points out that Sweden worshiped the God Frey, while Norway worshiped Thor, and Odin the god of poets and kings, had the same ideal as Thor, while Wode was the continental demon, in other words the native hunter and gathers of all the lands, the leaders of the wild hunt and the spirits of the dead, he was the god of war and magic (Strutynski, 1973).  Pan was like Frey and Wode, demonized by poets and Kings that were lured by riches as was Midas in Ovid whom was later lead to the forest (Ovid, 303) leaving the riches behind and worshiped Pan and the forest. “Ye have taken away my gods, and what have I more?” (Jacob Grimm in Stallybrass, 1882).

Casper David Friedrich paints an analysis of German Romanticism in Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog, in 1818 figure six. It is assumed that this is a self-analysis in his reflection of oneness with the natural world. Rising above the blinding fog into a state of mystic vision that can see over all obstacles, it is as if one climbs to the highest peak one will reach a state of enlightenment.  The up rightness of his canvas reflects the righteousness of his character in his own analysis. The green of his overcoat and cane is typical of German attire (Unkown, 1014) and mimics his connection to the wild Germania. His red hair suggests his purity of blood. A race that claims to be: ‘not corrupted by other nations’. Thus it is this time that one can observe in German Romanticism the move away from corrupted Mythological motifs to scientific nature analysis, individual reflection and nationalistic thought. By unifying the human psyche with sublime landscape conventions Friedrich naturalises corrupt motifs and moves the focus to environment. No longer do we have gods in mythological form, but we have just one god in nature.

The question asked in this paper was: was German Romantics misunderstood to be anti-Semitic? Were the educated liberal property owners a corruption of the idealistic Romantics and is the term Romantics a derogatory term created by industrialists to give the message that the Germanian ideal was unrealistic? Julius von Brincken (1789-1846) discovered the Bialowieza forest in Poland and identified the German heritage of Germania in his periodical that was typical in Roman order and economics. A battle of ideals was identified and a division was made within the German bourgeoisie. Adam Mickiewicz (1798-1855) wrote a national religion associated with the passion of Christ that linked the old world with the new, and disassociated the Jews with nature.  Caspar David Friedrich also depicted Christ as natures martyr in Cross on the Mountain revealing heaven on earth. Otto von Bismarck (1815-1898) worked to unite the German states by using popular tactical concessions, though he worked to include the Jewish judiciary, and the Liberal land owners were identified as the cause of the failed 1848 revolution, used popular culture to manipulate the people in the lead up to WWI and WWII, but as the bourgeoisie were divided the true Romantics aimed at environmental preservation and bettering society, while the liberal property owners fort for economic autonomy. Tacitus labelled Germans as beast, and Pan is example of the Roman corruption in Greek and German mythology. Brothers Grimm identifies a primeval struggle of light and dark, and the loss of Gods corrupted by Roman economic gain. Therefore when placing all this together it is possible that German Romanticism was at the heart of the fight for environmental protection, corrupted to be labelled as sublime melancholy, or negative reality in an unrealistic, Romantic perfect world ‘Germania’.

Figure 6. Caspar David Friedrich, Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog, 1818 .

friedrich wanderer






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Figure 1. Map location of the Bialowieza Forest. Reyrieved 4th of May 2015.

Figure 2. Putzger, Historischer Atlas (1954), p. 24. ‎(600 × 436 pixels, file size: 94 KB, MIME type: image/png) Retrieved 4th of May 2015.

Figure 3. Caspar David Friedrich, Cross in the Mountains, oil on canvas, Galerie Neue Meister, Dresden, Germany. (Lev, 2015)  Retrieved 3rd of May 2015.

Figure 4. Rocky Landscape with Pan Playing His Flute ( In the park of the Villa Chigi, Ariccia), 1808. Johann Christian Reinhart 1761-1847


Figure 5.Pan tröstet Psyche, 1857/1858, Alte Nationalgalerie, Berlin, erworben 1934.

Figure 6.Caspar David Friedrich, Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog, 1818 Retrieved 16th of April 2015.



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