My doctoral dissertation explores the interchange between the construction of art history as a discipline and the construction of cultural divisions of the landscape. In so doing, it builds on the important insights into the politics of revival movements in Germany provided by Michael Lewis's study of the Gothic revival, on Barbara Miller Lane's work on the German National Romanticism of the later nineteenth century, and on Celia Applegate's investigations of the German concept of Heimat. Specifically, the project investigates the interplay of scholarship on medieval architecture with efforts to justify and strengthen the political realignment of the Rhineland following the Napoleonic Wars (1800-15). In the fervor of nationalist Romanticism as it developed during these wars, medieval structures became icons of a mythologized era: one in which, as it seemed to many, what it meant to be German was most fully and beautifully expressed. Politicians and scholars used these emotionally-charged monuments to locate German cultural affinities.
Speyer Cathedral, in the Palatinate, provides the focus for my research. The Palatinate (depopulated, largely Protestant, and loyal to reforms instituted when the region was part of Napoleon's France) was transferred to Bavaria in 1816. King Ludwig I (r. 1825-48, d. 1868) lavishly renovated Speyer Cathedral to redefine symbolically the region as Bavaria would have it: thriving, Catholic, and aristocratic. The interior was covered with murals of saints and biblical scenes, and Heinrich Hübsch replaced the Baroque west end with a neo-Romanesque westwork. Ludwig's additions directly competed with Protestant Prussia's patriotic campaign to complete the Gothic cathedral of Cologne. Prussia was, however, misguided, according to Ludwig. He asserted, drawing on contemporary scholarship, that Gothic was a French style whereas only Romanesque was German. Even if this were true, Bavaria faced an ambiguity in using Speyer Cathedral to bolster its territorial claims. Until 1801, the diocese and even the city of Speyer extended across the Rhine into Baden. Baden's leaders were not above celebrating this history to support their own territorial designs on the Palatinate.
The contributions my project makes are methodological, conceptual, and comparative. Methodologically, it asks: how can one evaluate the interchange between shifting notions of cultural geography and early scholarship in medieval art? To answer this, I am investigating the full range of formulations of the meaning of medieval art in the Palatinate of the early nineteenth century. Conceptually, the project asks how fascination with cultural continuities has affected the writing and reception of art history. Even though in 1857 the Bavarian ethnographer Wilhelm Heinrich Riehl identified the Palatinate as the chief example among German lands of "diversity without unity," my research shows that this aspect of the Palatinate was ignored by nineteenth-century art historians, whose conceptualizations of Speyer strengthened the cathedral's usefulness to the Bavarian government. Comparatively, the project contributes to the current art-historical literature on the conception of "place." Formulated in terms of citizenship and identity, "place" is a growing concern of social scientists as well. Through its interpretive approach to historiography, the Speyer project addresses the juncture between these disciplines. For more information see: www.ghi-dc.org/conferences/archsem02.html.