Oltralpe. Max Liebermann’s artistic and cultural-political relations with Italy

Alice Cazzola | Landesgraduiertenförderung Baden-Württemberg

Max Liebermann, Monte Oliveto, Florence, 1902, pastel on paper, private collection © Christoph Irrgang

Max Liebermann (1847-1935) was a key figure in the artistic life of the German Empire and the Weimar Republic. His extensive œuvre, his cultural and political activities and his international network exerted a major influence on the art scene and helped pave the way for modernism. 
Although Italy had been a vital destination for artists from across German-speaking Europe at least since Goethe’s travels to Italy, Liebermann only crossed the Alps at the age of 31. A year before his second trip to Florence in 1893, he confessed: “The fear of being degraded by my work in Italy has kept me away from the land of art par excellence until now.”

While Liebermann’s relations with France and the Netherlands have been extensively researched, the increasing importance that Italy gained for the painter as a country rich in artistic tradition seems to have been overlooked so far. Contrary to Liebermann’s statement that the Belpaese was too picturesque, and the opinion expressed in contemporary biographies that the artist did not appreciate the southern country at all, a differentiated look at Liebermann’s writings shows that his attitude towards Italy can by no means be defined as exclusively negative. On the contrary, his Italian journeys and his success there had a considerable impact on his career and his work: Liebermann travelled to Italy between 1878 and 1913 at least six times, encountered representatives of the Italian art scene, regularly participated in exhibitions and while there found inspiration for his own works. 

Examining the ambivalence between Liebermann’s clear distancing from Italy and his simultaneous undeniable connection to this country, the dissertation project investigates the artist’s Italian œuvre, transcultural mobility and reception history from a German and Italian perspective.


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