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Multum in Parvo: The Ideological Revaluation of the Gothic Symbol in Western-European Art (1750-1945)

Gothic art is renowned for its use of complex symbols and details. Painted symbols are depicted with a greater detail than is naturally perceivable, whilst embodying complex transcendent ideas. Gothic cathedrals display an overwhelming number of details on their facades whilst connecting them all harmoniously under one roof. Medieval poetry sings of love, life and faith through complex symbolic layering. The Gothic symbol aims to evoke a meditative state through the abstraction and compression of the transcendent into a simple form. Its construction is the archetype of both the heavenly and the earthly, connecting both extremities through seemingly ordinary visual or literary vessels. The Latin expression 'multum in parvo, or “much in little”, summarizes the nature of these easily readable yet iconologically compressed Gothic semiotics. At the end of the Middle Ages, the multum in parvo symbol seems to lose prevalence and the classical allegory, which relies on communicative reference through attributes rather than meditative abstraction, becomes the most dominant symbol construction used in Western European art. This research departs from the hypothesis that the multum in parvo-symbol makes a return with the rise of Romanticism in the middle of the 18th century, when the longing for an individualized transcendence urged the Romantics to use an old symbolic language to express a newly found spirituality. The scope of this renewed appreciation of the medieval symbolic construction can not truly be measured by investigating formal artistic features, since this eliminates all ideas, artworks and concepts that are not formally connected to the gothic and yet look to the gothic symbol for their iconological or ideological construction. In analyzing the Nachleben or the survival of the underlying artistic motif that determines the nature of the gothic symbol, the true impact of the multum in parvo-symbol can be measured outside the boundaries of aesthetic form and stylistic period. In this way, both gothic art and the revaluation of gothic art can be seen in a new light and placed in a historic framework that is not divided by historic boundaries but is dictated by the ideological flow of art itself. This research will analyse the ideology of the multum in parvo-symbol and trace its use and appreciation throughout late modern Western European art history. The multum in parvo as a symbol-construction expresses itself as an underlying artistic primal motif in a medium-transcending manner. In order to safeguard quality and focus this study does hold a temporal border, which is set at the end of the Second World War. After the war, the nationalism that drove the new artistic purpose of the long nineteenth century and the view on the concept of the nation as an entity was transformed in such an abrupt and defining way that the use of multum in parvo as inspired by the Gothic symbol no longer matched the Western-European Kunstwollen. Through the concept of “multum in parvo”, this study aims to analyse the ideological Nachleben of an underlying artistic phenomenon to shed a new light on the social, aesthetic, and philosophical expression of the revaluation of this semiotics in Western Europe from 1750 to 1945. In researching artistic ideology at its core, this study aims to unveil the existence of an intermedial, transhistoric Seelenverwandschaft or soul-connection between Gothic and Late Modern Western European art that is not based on mere formal similarities, but on parallel symbol-construction.

Date:2 Jun 2022 →  Today
Keywords:Pathosformel, Nachleben, Medieval Studies, Miniature, Leitmotif, Sublime, Art History, Transhistoric, Intermedial, Romanticism, Idealism, Warburg
Disciplines:Philosophical aesthetics, Criticism and theory, History of art, Iconology
Project type:PhD project