Friedrich Overbeck (1789 - 1869)
Italia and Germania1828
Oil on canvas, 94,5 x 104,7 cm1832 acquired by King Ludwig IInv.-Nr. WAF 755
The painting depicts two young woman - one blond, the other dark-haired - who are turning towards each other and holding each other's hands as a sign of their unity. The calm balance between benevolent openness and receptive acknowledgment underscores the close relationship of the two.
The painting was originally conceived with the title "Sulamith and Maria" and was intended as a token of friendship between for Franz Pforr: The two Christian brides, Sulamith and Maria, were meant to represent the imaginary wives of both artists. In his version for Overbeck, Pforr fashioned a diptych, in which both female figures were separated from one another (Georg Schäfer Museum, Schweinfurt). In contrast, Overbeck chose for his work the more monumental figure group form. After Franz Pforr's early death in 1812, Overbeck discontinued working on the painting, first returning to its completion several years later. The two female figures were then altered to represent Italia and Germania in order to express the close connection between north and the south, as Overbeck and his group - Germans living in Rome - imagined it to be.
As opposed to the north German art of, for example, Caspar David Friedrich or Philipp Otto Runge the Nazarenes didn't see their future in an art that was autonomous, but strove rather for a re-uniting of painting in the service of religion and state - a return to art's serious, moral purpose. Especially Dürer and Raphael embodied for the Nazarenes the long-gone prime of art, and so were not only creatively imitated, but also in their standard of living. Dürer as the more rational and Raphael as the more idealistic were deliberately chosen as antipodes. The legendary friendship between these two contrary role-models was a preferred theme in both Overbeck's and Pforr's drawings. In light of this, Overbeck's painting "Italia and Germania" can be seen as an attempt to reconcile these two contrary principles into a new, promising painting style.