Jaffe Building, Room 204

PDF icon Grewe 2016 UPenn CV.pdf

Formally trained in Art History, Modern and Contemporary History, History of the Middle Ages, and Latin of the Middle Ages, Cordula Grewe received an M.A. from American University, Washington D.C. (1992), and a Ph.D. from the Albert-Ludwigs-Universität in Freiburg im Breisgau, Germany (1998). She has held numerous fellowships, among them the Hans Kohn Fellowship at the Princeton Institute for Advanced Study (2006-2007), and an Alexander von Humboldt Fellowship for Experienced Researchers (2009 and 2012-13).

Research Interests

18th- and 19th-century Art and Aesthetics; Visual Piety in the Modern Age; German Art, 1750 to 1920

Cordial Grewe’s research grows out of a deep interest in the intersection of art making, criticism, and art history; the relationship between an object’s thingness, and its discursive potential; and philosophical implications. Last but not least, she is interested in the tension between historical specificity and the work’s permanent presence that allows the object to accumulate new meaning(s) as it travels through time and space—while establishing a mysterious contemporaneity to our own moment. At the heart of this approach lies an interest in the rise of a modern historical consciousness and the profound crisis of temporality that accompanied it and is still with us, as contemporary debates over heterochronia and neohistoricism vividly demonstrate. At stake in Grewe’s research is rethinking what it meant to be modern in the long nineteenth century, and what consequences such rethinking might have for today’s desire to move off-shore from the “continental” mainstream and spatialize modernism as a series of local henomena.

Published Projects:

Painting the Sacred in the Age of Romanticism 

The Nazarenes: Romantic Avant-Garde and the Art of the Concept

Working on the German cultural sphere of 1750-1870 has been in many ways a move off-shore, from center to periphery. It has opened up new forays into the modern and brought to the fore its more bewildering offspring, from modern antimodernism to an avant-garde of the counterrevolution. This fascination with phenomena of “unwilling modernity” has crystallized in Grewe’s research on the Nazarenes, who pursued a reform program of religious revival and reenchantment built upon the belief that the past held the key to the future. Despite the deeply historicist and politically as well as socially conservative nature of this program, it was also utterly modern, and from its inception reflected the insight in the impossibility of a simple return to a past order. A clear if pained sense of modernity’s fragmented nature led the Nazarenes to explore the cutting edge of philosophical and aesthetic reflection, and propelled them toward an art that was quintessentially conceptual in a manner unique before the twentieth century. This inner tension makes this religious revivalist movement a stimulating laboratory for thinking through the tensions between progressive and reactionary forces, the role of religion in an allegedly secular age, and the intersection between literary and philosophical media, the emerging discipline of art history, and artistic practice. Grewe’s wager in studying the Nazarenes is that they speak to the need to write contemporary art history as a story not merely of modernism but of modernity in all its stylistic, ideological, temporal, and geographical complexity. The two sides of the Nazarenes, theology and theory, are reflected in Grewe’s first two books: the Painting the Sacred in the Age of Romanticism (Ashgate, 2009), and The Nazarenes: Romantic Avant-Garde and the Art of the Concept (Penn State UP, 2015).

Current Projects:

The Arabesque from Kant to Comic Strip

This book reflects Grewe’s deeply rooted interest in media history and intermediality, social networks and cultural transfer, as well as the rise of new and non-traditional art forms. It grows from her preoccupation with avant-garde theories of writing, the disciplinary origins of art history, and the various attempts to translate both into artistic practice. Focusing on the period between roughly 1750 and 1880, the book gives emphasis to print culture, arguing that it was here, in the multiple, that visual culture was most successful in adapting the theoretical richness and embodied discursively of this theorem.

On the Evidence of Painting: Theo-Aesthetics from Ingres to the Leipzig School

Grewe’s second new project on modern theo-aesthetics focuses on the intersection of art, theology, and the practice of picture making by examining the central yet so far overlooked claim of Ingres’s series Madonna Adoring the Host (1841-1866) that art itself is a form of transubstantiation, which can provide pictorial evidence of the immaterial, imaginary and invisible through an aesthetic and theological exploration of materiality. Though the project is tightly focused on a select group of objects, the question behind her investigation is a much larger one, which goes right to the heart of current debates about the possibility, and viability, of religious art, and more precisely of Church art in the modern age. Focusing on Ingres, Grewe’s investigation extends to questions of anachronism, site-specific contemporary art (site-specific here referring to art in liturgical spaces), and the theoretical importance of ritual for the making, reception, and perception of twenty-first-century works. With Leipzig School star Michael Triegel as her key witness, the book puts forth a theory of thee-aesthetics as a critical category, which breaks down dominant binary systems of presence and likeness, materiality and spirituality, and, finally, the white cube of the gallery and sacred space.

Courses Taught

  • ARTH775 - Topics in 19th C. European Art: Neoclassicism: From Revolution to Empire
  • ARTH275 - Revolution to Realism
  • ARTH368 - Topics in 18th Century Art: Rococo and its Aftermath