Reality as Image-Making: Collective Kulturbilder and Subjective Perspective in C. F. Meyer’s Historical Novella Die Hochzeit des Mönchs

Silke Brodersen


This article interprets the use of images and visuality as interplay between subjective perception and collective imaginary in C. F. Meyer’s realist novella Die Hochzeit des Mönchs. I argue that Meyer’s novella employs the art historian Jacob Burckhardt’s notion of Kulturbild as an epistemological model to discuss both the construction of modern subjectivity in Renaissance art and its crisis in the nineteenth century due to the re-emergence of excluded bodily desire. Like Burckhardt, Meyer uses images as both source and medium for historical analysis, but shows the subjective gaze (and consequently its objective field of vision) in Renaissance style to be complicated by ambiguity, multivalence, and inauthenticity: the text demonstrates that subjectivity is predetermined by collective cultural imagery and limited by the non-representational mythical space of the body. Thus, while Meyer, as has been previously suggested, celebrates the self-assured power of the Renaissance man, he also demonstrates the illusionary quality of his vision which does not offer unadulterated access to ‘nature,’ instead revealing the subjective perspective to be an uneasy patchwork of conflicting cultural visions on the verge of breakdown. (SB)

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