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German Renaissance - Influences

( Originally Published 1921 )


I. Geographical central position in Europe of the country inhabited by the Teutonic peoples enabled it to receive Renaissance art from Italy on the south and from France on the west ; while, as the states in this great tract of country were independent, there could be no central and unifying influence as in France. The distance from the headquarters of the new movement was instrumental in deferring its introduction till 100 years later than in Italy. The States of Prussia, Hanover, Saxony, Bavaria, Wurtemberg, and Baden were widely scattered as to latitude and longitude, and were distinguished by different geographical conditions of seaboard, rivers, and mountains, and this differentiated the architecture of the various districts, as in previous periods (pp. 288, 482).

II. Geological.—The geological conditions naturally remained the same as during Romanesque and Gothic times (pp. z88, 482). Timber, brick, and stone continued to give their own character to the architecture, according to their local use ; thus moulded and ornamental brickwork was used in great variety in the alluvial plains of the north, while varieties of stone and timber are used according to locality and produce consequent differences.

III. Climatic.—As in previous periods (pp. 288, 482), climate affected architecture, and the revived Classic forms were modified from those in use in Italy to suit a more northern temperature thus windows still continued to be large, roofs to be steep, and chimneys to be prominent features.

IV. Religious.---Martin Luther (A.D. 1483–1546) towers above all others as the dominating figure of the Reformation in Germany, and the day in A.D. 1517 on which he nailed to the church door in Wittenberg his famous theses against indulgences inaugurated a revolution in the religious life of Germany which culminated when Luther publicly burnt the Bull of Excommunication issued against him by the Pope. Luther's choice of High German for the translation of the Bible led to its adoption as the basis of the literary language of Germany, and it is significant that this literary aspect of the Reformation coincides with the Renaissance " Humanist " movement in German universities. A decree of the Diet of Spires (A.D. 1529), forbidding ecclesiastical changes, called forth the protest from Luther and his adherents which originated the name of Protestant. This was followed in A.D. 1530 by the Confession of Augsburg and by the Smalcaldic League of Protestant princes and cities for mutual defence against the House of Hapsburg. The stress and turmoil in religious thought of this period of upheaval allowed little opportunity for the erection of new churches, but it resulted in the trans-formation of those of previous periods to meet the needs of the reformed religion, in the ritual of which preaching became a powerful factor, and necessitated that increased space for seated congregations which brought about the introduction of galleries. Thus the reformers adapted old churches, while Romanists had no need to build new ones. The strife between Protestants and Catholics and dissensions between Lutherans and Zwinglians was finally followed by the counter-Reformation, which was re-enforced by the arrival of the Jesuits in Germany and by the counter-blast to Protestantism of the decrees of the Council of Trent (A.D. 1563).

V. Social.—Germany was at this time composed of divers kingdoms, principalities, electorates, duchies, ecclesiastical states, and imperial cities, subject to the different reigning houses of Hapsburg, Hohenzollern, Wittelsbach, and Oldenburg. It is therefore manifest that there could not be the same cohesion as in France, but much diversity and rivalry in social life and institutions, which also made for a corresponding diversity in artistic development. The Middle Ages had come to an end. The Holy Roman Empire was no longer predominant. Feudalism began to disappear ; gunpowder changed military methods, and bands of mercenaries often replaced feudal troops. There were also various internal influences at work, such as the power of the great trading towns of the Hanseatic League, the position of the Guilds in civic government, and the attempt of the peasants to secure political freedom. The principal Renaissance factor was the influence of the universities, notably of Heidelberg, the chief seat of the Humanist movement. This was further strengthened by the invention of printing, while in the eighteenth century the literary works of Winckelmann, Goethe, and others aroused interest in the architecture of ancient Greece.

VI. Historical.—The succession of Charles V (Charles I of Spain) to the possessions of the Houses of Castile, Aragon, and Burgundy, as well as to the Low Countries, marks the beginning of German Renaissance. In A.D. 1516 he also obtained the two Sicilies, and on the death of Maximilian in A.D. 1519 he became the most powerful Emperor since Charlemagne. Various invasions by the Turks between the years A.D. 1529 and 1562 further complicated matters in Germany, increased the difficulties of the House of Hapsburg, and were inimical to architectural activities. The wars of Charles V and the Catholics against the Protestant princes (A.D. 1546–55) were brought to an end by the Peace of Augsburg, which allowed each state to set up what religion it pleased, but made no provision for individuals who were of different religion from that of the prevailing government. This resulted in persecutions and culminated in the famous " Thirty Years' War " (A.D. 1618–48) between Catholic and Protestant princes. Christian IV of Denmark and Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden fought on the Protestant side under Frederick, the Elector Palatine, son-in-law of James I of England. France also took part in the war under Cardinals Richelieu and Mazarin, and when the Peace of Westphalia (A.D. 1648) once more provided for religious equality in each state, the war had ruined the position of Germany, depleted her population, and left France the leading nation in Europe. These wars not only arrested the development of architecture during the period of their actual prosecution, but also retarded building activities for some time after the conclusion of peace. In the latter part of the seventeenth century many German princes allied themselves with Louis XIV, until the rise of the House of Hohenzollern, when Frederick the Great was crowned first King of Prussia (A.D. 1701). In the nineteenth century many German princes formed a confederation of the Rhine under Napoleon, and the Kingdom of Germany ceased to exist, until in A.D. 1870 a German Emperor was crowned at Versailles. Since that time German ambition has known no bounds, and has everywhere, whether in politics, commerce, or colonisation, been prosecuted systematically and unscrupulously for her own political aggrandisement, until the Great War of A.D. 1914–19 drenched Europe in blood and once more shattered the position of Germany as a great European power.

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