Monday, June 22, 2009

Problematic Allegories

An allegory is a figurative of representation of something abstract. Allegories became very popular in Renaissance and Baroque painting. Normally virtues, feelings or moods like Justice, Fidelity or Melancholy were represented by young women. Later with the discovery of the world these women were also used to symbolize the new continents. Europa was just known, now she was accompanied by the new invented Asia, America and Africa.

Europe Supported By Africa and America (1796). A typical 19th century illustration by William Blake (1757–1827).

Allegories as national symbols became popular not before the rising nationalism as a reaction on the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars.

Germania and Italia (1811-28). This peaceful allegory is by the German Romantic painter Johann Friedrich Overbeck (1789-1869) one of the founders of the Nazarene movement. Both people, the Germans and the Italians, were suppressed and far away from forming nations. Without nations, nationalists from many kingdoms were supporting each other.

But this harmony passed by in some decades. Here Germania (1849) by the German painter Christian Köhler (1809-1861) is called to arms by Justice. And she’s not only reaching for the sword, but also for the imperial crown.

Hardly surprising that with the beginning of the First World War the once so peaceful Germania has changed to an aggressive Valkyrie with armor, shield and sword and the crown on her head.

Germania (1914) by Friedrich August von Kaulbach (1850-1920).

There are a lot more examples from all European nations. Interesting and a little sad is how these once so peaceful figures were transformed into something so aggressive and hateful, they were mobilized.


  1. I so appreciate the information you give to enhance enjoyment and appreciation of the paintings. Thanks much.


  3. Germania wasn't any real person neither a mythological one. She was a pure invention by 19th century romanticism to illustrate the new discovered fatherland.
    With Britiania and others happened the same.