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History Seminar 10: Marxism in Context

Freidrich Schlegel, Extract from Descriptions of Paintings, 1802-1804

[1] The true source of art and of the beautiful is feeling. Feeling reveals the proper idea and aim of art, and points to the certain knowledge of the artist's intention, though the proof of this lies in practice rather than words. Religious feeling, piety, love and quiet enthusiasm guided the hand of the old masters. Only a few of them possessed in addition, or in its stead, what alone can replace religious feeling in art, namely, profound thought and an earnest philosophical striving. This is quite evident, though in artistic form, in the works of Dürer and Leonardo. It would be vain to attempt the restoration of painting without first reawakening, if not religion itself, at least the idea of religion, through Christian philosophy. But if young artists find this way too long and steep, let them at least study poetry which breathes this spirit. Not Greek poetry--which will only mislead them into strangeness or pedantry, and which they will only read in translations that spoil the ancient grace with the wooden rattle of dactylic meter--it is romantic poetry they ought to read. The best Italian and Spanish poets, in addition to Shakespeare, the more accessible of the older German poets, and those moderns who wrote in the romantic spirit: let these be the constant companions of the young artist. Only they can gradually lead him back into the old land of romance, removing from his vision the blur of prosaic imitation of the pagan antiquities and of unhealthy art-babble. But the main thing is that the artist be in complete earnest about religious feeling, true piety and living faith. Mere fantasy play with Catholic symbols, lacking in that love which is stronger than death, will never attain the loftiness of Christian beauty.

[2] In what does this Christian beauty consist? It is necessary, above all, to recognize the good and evil in art doctrine. Whoever has not discovered the inward life cannot reveal it gloriously in art. He will float along in the confused, dreamlike stream of a shallow and spiritually vain existence, instead of uplifting us through his art to a higher realm of spirit. He will merely serve false fashion and the empty glitter of illusion, without ever penetrating to the region of true beauty.

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