A Match Not Made in Heaven: Artist Anecdotes and the ‘Dialogues of the Dead’

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Abstract

Artist anecdotes are arguably among some of the more informal and entertaining bodies of artistic literature. As such, they frequently become fertile ground for experiments with different literary forms and genres of art writing. This article focuses on one historical case, a short pamphlet by the Nuremberg engraver Georg Wolfgang Knorr, with the title ‘Historic Artist-Entertainment’ (1738). Knorr’s booklet draws on an oft-repeated anecdote – told, among others, by Vasari and Sandrart -, namely the legendary meeting between Albrecht Dürer and Raffael. Knorr reconfigured this anecdote and opted for a novel way of imagining the discussions between the artists: he wrote a ‘dialogue of the dead’, staging this artistic encounter as a posthumous one, with the artists meeting each other in heaven. Knorr’s short work is intriguing for mainly one reason: it is an attempt to ‘vulgarise’ art historical knowledge by moulding it in a literary shape that was incredibly popular in mid-eighteenth-century Germany. Knorr’s text thus can serve as a case study for how authors tried to disseminate art historical knowledge amongst the new, significantly enlarged reading public of Enlightenment Europe, and which literary strategies they employed for doing so. Yet Knorr’s attempt to present art historical knowledge in a new genre – namely the dialogues of the dead – was by and large unsuccessful. Very few other dialogues of the dead with artists as protagonists were written. Moreover, Knorr himself quickly abandoned his original project of publishing a whole volume of such dialogues. The article therefore aims to discuss the reasons behind this failure, and to analyse what this might tell us about the popular appeal of artistic literature, and artist anecdotes in particular.
Original languageEnglish
Article number23/HCH1
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Art Historiography
Volume23
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2020

Keywords

  • anecdotes
  • Enlightenment
  • Raphael
  • Albrecht Dürer
  • Nazarenes
  • vulgarization
  • art literature
  • dialogues of the dead

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