The debut. – It is far from easy to specify the German element in the art of the Germanic tribes (in which the future Germanic art is being prepared) that came into contact with civilizations different from their own. The formal elements that A. Riegl defined as proper to the art of the lower Empire, were attributed by F. Adama van Scheltema to that of the Nordic peoples; and if we add the Asian contributions highlighted above all by J. Strzygowski, for this period there is a chaotic mixture of disparate elements in which the contribution of the Germanic populations seems to have been notable. The works that remain from those centuries are almost exclusively minute metal objects that attest to the predilection of the Germanic peoples for decorative elements, pushed up to the complete dissolution of the figurative part. This “expressionistic” and anti-naturalistic art of the age of the barbarian invasions was transformed only through an intense assimilation of classical elements into primitive, distinctly German art. The assimilation of the classical elements took place in the so-called Carolingian Renaissance (v.Carolingian, art).
In Carolingian art, Franco-Oriental characters, ie future German and French elements, were merged into unity, according to the structure of the Carolingian Empire itself; however, there is no lack of works of architecture and painting created in the context of the future Germanic Empire which must be considered as the first products of an essentially German art. For architecture, the transition from wood to stone in this period is of utmost importance, at least as regards monumental constructions, if also the importance of proto-Germanic wooden architecture and its influence on later architecture. in stone seems to have been greater for the Scandinavian countries than for Germany, where the stone architecture is directly linked to the Roman tradition as the numerous technical terms taken from Latin attest. The two main monuments are the Aachen cathedral and the convent atrium of Lorsch. In the cathedral of Aachen, begun before 728, the Frankish architect, Odone of Metz, was original, both with respect to the Byzantine buildings, from which he took the general proportions and the plan, as well as the classical ones, from which he derived the columns. The classical influence in the atrium of Lorsch is stronger, reminiscent of the Roman city gates. The proportions and decorations reveal to you lively aspirations and harmony of forms. To these two main works we can add the so-called plan of the convent of San Gallo, which should be considered as a model for the Benedictine convents of the Frankish Empire, inspired by the forms codified in the year 817: an ideal convent, in which all the material and spiritual needs of the community would be provided. But little can we get from that plan for the architectural forms, as little can be induced from the excavations of the ruins of the various palaces, especially in Aachen.
The definition of “German” painting – represented by the miniature – in this period is hampered by the insoluble difficulty of determining the nationality of the artists who worked either in Aachen or Ingelheim. But the impetuous linear style full of expression of the Hautvillers psalter, preserved in the university library of Utrecht, seems a prelude to the most salient character of all German art. The scant remains of wall paintings in Santa Maria im Münstertal do not allow us to realize their stylistic character. As for the Carolingian sculptures, with the exception of the ivories stylistically similar to the miniatures of the Palatine school, there are only two ivories, attributed to the monk Tutylus of the convent of St. Gall, in which the German character is more marked.
Contemporary art. – The attempts of architecture and applied arts – whose various activities are coordinated by the large organization of the “Deutscher Werkbund” – to achieve a modern artistic expression that meets the needs of current production and consumption have achieved remarkable results. German architecture has preserved, thanks to P. Behrens, H. Poelzig, E. Mendelsohn and others, the eminent place obtained by the two pioneers of the movement, Otto Wagner and Alfredo Messel, and also industrial art German – a definition that includes, in addition to artisan products, all kinds of objects of use having an artistic form – has become, through a logical and methodical organization, an important factor in the international movement.
In the figurative arts it arose at the beginning of the century. XX, as a reaction against international impressionism, an art that is excellently characterized by the epithet of expressionist art, bestowed on it for the unilateral accentuation of expressive values at the expense of formal ones. It is no coincidence that the German movement was immediately before the war and simultaneously with French Cubism and Italian Futurism, which also tended to the exclusive and logical concentration of pure ethnic tendencies. Although expressionism has common with the fauve peinture from the beginning of the twentieth century single solutions of coloristic problems and sharing the principle of anti-naturalism with other young schools, it remained essentially a German movement. He exaggerates the search for “expression” until the dissolution of the form, sacrificing the figurative element to the decorative one, and finally finds in the engraving a particularly suitable tool for his own violence. In the decade 1910-20 it completely dominated every German artistic activity, finding its most significant representatives in a series of artists: E. Barlach for sculpture, P. Klee for drawing, and for painting the group called “Die Brücke” in Dresden (E. Nolde, EL Kirchner, K. Schmidt-Rotluff, E. Heckel, HM Pechstein and others). The relaxation that followed the terrible tension of the war years prepared a rapprochement between the tendencies that dominate the pure and applied arts, as the former began to feel the need to represent the subject in a clear and understandable way. This movement, called “new objectivism” (neue Sachlichkeit), takes place parallel to important contemporary social currents, with which it has numerous affinities (M. Beckmann, O. Dix) and which lead it to take the form of satire on costumes (G. Grosz).
To those outside the movement, contemporary German art may seem a spectacle similar to that of the invasion of the Mediterranean civilization of the barbarian hordes at the time of the fall of the Roman Empire, since the dividing elements appear stronger and deeper than the common elements. and independent. But if it is legitimate to rely on the teachings of the past, the further development of this art should depend on its ability to assimilate the elements capable of integrating their primordial forces from other civilizations.