Galerie Henze & Ketterer & Triebold presents the exhibition “Not Here, but Certainly in Heaven. Giovanni Manfredini, the artists of ‘Brücke’ and their successors on the theme of Religion“.
Besides allegorical and historical representations, paintings and sculptures devoted to religious themes also became firmly established very early on in the history of art. By the time of the ancient Greeks and Romans, at the latest, their gods and their deeds, histories and transformations were captured in paintings and sculptures for the decoration of temples, shrines, public places and also the exteriors and interiors of private dwellings. These works ranged in size from many times larger than life-size – like the legendary “Athena Parthenos” by the sculptor Pheidias in 438 BC, which was 11.5 metres tall and stood in the most sacred temple of the Parthenon in Athens, or the statue of Zeus, likewise created by Pheidias between 438 and 430 BC, which was 13 metres tall and stood in the temple of Olympia, one of the Seven Wonders of Antiquity – down to statuettes of just a few centimetres’ height primarily for domestic use, in the “lararium”, for example, a shrine to the guardian spirits of Roman households.
This tradition of immortalizing deities in painting and sculpture was adopted and further developed by the incipient Christianity that issued from the Greek and Roman civilizations. The Gods of Olympus and the Roman world of gods and goddesses had now made way for God the Father of the Old Testament and Jesus Christ and his apostles and the saints of the New Testament and their legends. As most people were unable to read and write, these paintings and sculptures served as a means of spreading the Word of God, furthering religious understanding, guiding the faithful and exemplifying virtuousness and morality. Paintings then served as accompanying illustrations in manuscripts and, later, in printed books, and also as pure works of art on the walls of churches and palaces right up until the present day: wonderful frescoes, like the ones painted by Giotto around 1300 AD in the Arena Chapel in Padua or in the Basilica di San Francesco in Assisi; panel paintings, like those by Caravaggio in Italy, by Dürer north of the Alps or by Anthony van Dyck and Peter Paul Rubens in the Netherlands; altars and also statues, like the Pietá by Michelangelo, and whole buildings, like the Gothic churches and cathedrals – all of them issuing from the need to render homage to God and Christ.
It is also a tradition that has left its mark on the painting and sculpture of our own time, as will be shown by the forthcoming exhibition featuring works of the artists of “Brücke” – Erich Heckel, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Otto Mueller, Emil Nolde, Hermann Max Pechstein and Karl Schmidt-Rottluff – as well as works of classic modernism, including works by Eduard Bargheer and Berthold Müller-Oerlinghausen from the last century, and the works of a contemporary Italian artist: Giovanni Manfredini, who is devoted to religious themes and had created two series of new works for the coming exhibition. Indeed, the exhibition will show how deep the need still is to express religious themes on paper and canvas or through the medium of sculpture.
Figures of Christ are superimposed, like a veil, on photographic reproductions of details from paintings by Antonello da Messina, Bellini, Caravaggio, Guido Reni, Lotto and Mantegna, Ribera or Ter Brugghen. The themes are crucifixions, the laid body of Christ or the face of Christ, all of which are worked over, alienated and/or augmented in pencil. The interventions are subtle and testify to the artist’s skill as a draughtsman, a skill with which we have hitherto been altogether unfamiliar.
Why Manfredini? Born not far from Modena in 1963, the artist has already devoted himself to crucifixions and ascensions to heaven in such earlier works as “Tentativi di Esistenza” (Attempts at Life), “Corpi” (Bodies) and their sublimations, “Estasi” (Extasies) using his own special technique with finely crushed white seashells blackened with soot from a torch flame with which he produced imprints from his own body (“Tentativi di Esistenza”) or white, perfectly circular discs against a black ground (“Estasi”). Typical representatives of these groups of works will be included in the exhibition for the sake of presenting a complete overview of the artist’s career and not least in order to exemplify Manfredini’s continuous preoccupation with religious themes. A further work by Manfredini, “Stabat Mater”, an exquisitely executed crown of thorns, will also feature in the exhibition. Accompanied by compositions by Ennio Morricone, this work caused quite a stir at the last Venice Biennale. What will immediately strike the visitor about the Manfredini’s portraits of the artists of “Brücke”, which have been created specially for the exhibition, is their iconic character. Manfredini has here captured, in tempera on paper, the penetrating gaze of each of these long dead artists, for it is through this gaze that Manfredini seeks to reach through to their art. Indeed, Manfredini seeks in his art to make contact with all artists, not only with the Expressionists (in his portraits of them) but with all the great masters of the past (in his worked-over photographic reproductions of their works). Thus it is that Manfredini is able to obtain an access sui generis to these painters and their works, although he does qualify this ability as regards the “here and now”, both in the titles of his works and in the title of the exhibition: “forse mai” (not here). Contact will be possible only in the hereafter: “o forse in Paradiso” (but certainly in heaven).
Even though Manfredini does not consider a meeting with these artists of the past to be possible in this life, he will certainly be able to witness a confrontation of his own works with those of the “Brücke” artists and their successors, and he has no intention of shying away from it. We have been able to obtain the most fascinating of works for the exhibition: Processions by Bargheer, representations from the Apocalypse by Kirchner, “The Awakening of Lazarus” and “Disciples” by Müller Oerlinghausen, scenes from the Old Testament by Nolde, the incomparable and outstanding “Lord’s Prayer” by Pechstein (a series of woodcuts devoted to the fundamental prayer of Christianity), prophets and stories from the life of Christ by Schmidt-Rottluff, as well as two works by Bernhard Schultze. Thus the exhibition offers a wide diversity of works with a religious background, both of the Old and of the New Testament, including rich depictions of the faithful and their surrounding worlds and testifying not least to the need of artists of both past and present to devote themselves to this traditional, age-old theme.