Original Research

The spaces of truth and cathedral window light

G. Gillespie
Literator | Vol 17, No 3 | a624 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/lit.v17i3.624 | © 1996 G. Gillespie | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 02 May 1996 | Published: 02 May 1996

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G. Gillespie, Departments of German Studies, and Comparative Literature, Stanford University, California, United States

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Abstract

Major writers and painters of the Romantic period interpreted the church or cathedral in its organic and spiritual dimensions as a complex expression of a matured Christian civilization. Artists of the mid-nineteenth century continued to produce both secular and religious variations upon this established referentiality. Although divergent uses reciprocally reinforced the fascination for the central imagery of the church and its multiple contexts, they also came to suggest a deeper tension in Western development between what the church had meant in an earlier Europe and what it might mean for late modernity. The threat of a permanent loss of cultural values was an issue haunting Realist approaches. A crucial revision occurred when key Symbolist poets openly revived the first Romantic themes but treated them as contents available to a decidedly post-Romantic historical consciousness. There was an analogous revival of interest in the church as a culturally charged symbol in painting around the turn of the century. Although they might apply this poetic and pictorial heritage in strikingly different ways, writers of high Modernism such as Rilke, Proust, and Kafka understood its richness and importance.

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