Jan Verkade (anglicky)


Díky překladu do němčiny z Traktátu o malbě od Cenninoho Cennini (konec XV. století) získal Francesco Mazzaferro  informace o P. Willibrordu (Jana) Verkadem z Beuronu a jeho malířství. S laskavým svolením pana Francesco Mazzaferro uveřejňujeme dva články o význačném beuronském umělci P.W. Verkadem.

Francesco Mazzaferro, nar. 1953, pracuje v Evropské centrální bance ve
 Frankfurtu nad Mohanem. Pochází z italské rodiny, která vlastní uměleckohistorickou knihovnu a specializuje se na
uměleckou literaturu. Mazzaferro své rodině pomáhá s bádáním a překlady do angličtiny.   Celý text část 1 část 2

Cennino Cennini and the Quest for Spiritual Art in the Mid of World War I Verkade1

Jan Verkade (1868-1946) Self-portrait(c. 1891-1894)

Verkade2Father Willibrord Verkade (Picture in 1920)


First, in his preface to the (second) German translation of the Book of the Art by Cennino Cennini, Jan Verkade (alias the Benedictine Father Willibrord Verkade) writes that “the newest direction of painting will be a spiritualist one”. This is a research on Verkade’s quest for spiritual art, across countries, languages and art schools. Cennino’s translation was a stage in this search. Second, Jan Verkade published his translation in Strasburg (at that time, a part of Germany) in the midst of World War I. His intention was to offer to contemporary painters the possibility to have direct access to the art technique know-how of the late Giotto school. Of course, he expected that his work would have helped strengthening the interest of his contemporaries for the use of colours (tempera) and those techniques (in particular, frescos) which ‑ as from the end of the nineteenth century ‑ had captured the interest of religiously motivated painters. The translation was finished in 1914, the book appeared in 1916. While the translation of the late mediaeval treatise was in German, the main cultural background of Verkade’s interest for Cennino ultimately goes back to his acquaintance with France (Germany’s main military enemy during that conflict). Third, the aesthetic roots of Jan Verkade are in the resolute anti-naturalist and anti-positivist reaction of French literature and art in the last decades of the nineteenth century (Baudelaire, Verlaine). Some of the constitutive myths of the symbolist movement accompanied all phase of his diverse art production. Fourth, the French (1911) and German (1914-1916) translations of Cennino Cennini are indirectly linked via the interest which catholic circles in both countries had to understand mediaeval art techniques, mainly through the artist and art and music critic Maurice Denis. Unfortunately, there is evidence that the war broke those links between Verkade and France, which had existed since 1891, when Verkade became member of the Nabis art group and made his acquaintance with Paul Sérusier and Maurice Denis, the theoretical core of the Nabis movement. The three formed a trio sharing interest in art and religion, with a common disdain (against naturalism) and a common passion (for symbolism).

Verkade 3Cennino’s second translation in German by Jan (Father Willibrord) Verkade (1916)

Verkade 4Cennino’s second translation in French by Henri Mottez in 1911

Fifth, there is a line of continuity between Verkade’s admiration for Paul Gaugain, of whom he was a disciple (1891), his participation in the Nabis art circles in Paris and Brittany (1982), his belonging to the Beuronese art school (after his decision in 1894 to enter the monastic order of the Benedictines in Beuron, Germany) and his translation of Cennino Cennini’s treatise. Verkade interprets Cennino as a precursor of several aspects of synthetist and symbolist painting: the treatment of colours, the simplification of the composition, the interest for frescos. Sixth, Jan Verkade signed the translation of the Book of the Art (see front page of 1916 edition) as a representative of the Beuronese art, the art movement founded by Peter Lenz (alias Pater Desiderius Lenz) in the late 1860s. This movement lasted until the 1930s, and aimed at a comprehensive renewal of sacred art in Europe. Originating from Benedective monasteries in Germany, it attracted great attention in those decades (including from the future Pope Paul VI, who wrote an article on it in 1929), as it tried to create a link between symbolism, old Egyptian and Greek art, normative use of canons and proportion, and spiritualism. It was an attempt to distil a synthesis between modern art and tradition, keeping pace with contemporary aesthetic but trying to find a new spiritual equilibrium, with some aspects common to art abstraction (aesthetic geometry; canon for proportions of human representations). The Beuronese art, in aesthetic terms, tried to establish a collective style, where common and typical aspects would have had prominence on any individualistic features. Paul Sérusier and Maurice Denis accompanied this movement in France, translating reference texts.   Verkade 5Beuronese art ‑ St. Ildegard Abbey ‑ Beuron Verkade 6 Beuronese art ‑ St. Ildegard Abbey -Beuron Seventh, Jan Verkade was the ambassador of Beuronese art across Europe, and the one who established personal links with several artists and art movements outside the monasteries. His memories (covering his life from his youth until World War I) were a bestseller of their time, and were translated in German, English, French, Spanish, Italian, Czech and Polish. Verkade did not have only intense relations with Sérusier and Denis, but also with the Vienna and Prague Secession, the member of “The Blue Rider” Jawlensky, the editor of “Leonardo” Giuseppe Prezzolini, and many others. It should also not be underestimated that the Beuron monastery was not only a religious centre, but also a cultural centre (with a 400,000 volume library established in the 1920s) which hosted ‑ under the lead of the Archi-Abbot Raphael Walzer ‑ some of the most important representatives of Catholic resistance to Nazism in the 1930s (among them, Edith Stein, who was killed in Auschwitz and has been proclaimed Saint and one of the six patrons of Europe). Eight, the interest for Cennino Cennini in the French culture dated back to mid-1800, mainly as an import from Ruskin’s admiration for gothic revival. While in Britain this stream of thinking was linked to the idea of social progress, in France it turned to become a feature of most conservative catholic culture. Cennino captured the hearts of that part of the French cultural élite which regretted the French revolution, was horrified by the Paris Comune, fostered the plot against Dreyfus, contributed to the nationalist and ultimately filo-fascist Action Française (condemned by the Pope) and wanted political and cultural conservation, at any price. Ultimately, Cennino Cennini became in France a cultural reference for artists (like Auguste Renoir) who were substantial unconvinced about any possibility to recover the greatness of past mediaeval art, after the centuries of cultural corruption inaugurated by Renaissance. An anti-rationalist and anti-illuministic hero. It was Maurice Denis who was at the origin of the new version of Cennino in France in 1911, convinced Renoir to write an anti-modernist programmatic text as preface to it and published it in the publishing house (“The Occident”) of which he was the art critic.

L’Action française (1912), Organe du Nationalism Integral
L’Action française (1912), Organe du Nationalism Integral
Maurice Denis. Theories 1890 ‑ 1910 du symbolisme et de Gauguin vers un nouvelle ordre classique
Maurice Denis. Theories 1890 ‑ 1910 du symbolisme et de Gauguin vers un nouvelle ordre classique

                             Ninth, Maurice Denis ‑ at the very centre of the network of contacts between the French and the German versions of Cennino ‑ oscillated between the forward-looking attempts to renew spiritualism and the backwards attempts to re-establish tradition. In art, he defined the Nabis culture as ‘neo-traditionalism’ and interpreted the line Gauguin, van Gogh and Cezanne as a new form of classicism. With his “Workshops of sacred art” established in 1919, he tried to create ‑ in vain ‑ a new generation of French spiritual Christian artists. Other groups of artists and art critics (the group ‘Haute Claire’ and the review “L’indépendence” also made reference to Cennino Cennini as original aesthetic symbol of pure art, but their interpretation was more radical (in terms of nationalism and conservatism) and ended up to support and legitimate early French fascist movements, much ahead of the Vichy experience. Tenth, a comprehensive reading of the role which Cennino Cennini played in conservative Catholicism ‑ as an ‘original myth’ for the spiritualist art streams across the nineteenth and the twentieth century ‑ is therefore possible. Why did this attempt to renovate art in the sense of religion and mediaeval techniques fail? In a certain sense, it was defeated by history, by crisis, by war, (after World War I erupted, Verkade did not paint for several years), and by the abyss in which the human kind fell. Jan Verkade debuted in an art circle (the Nabis) which had adopted the Hebrew name for ‘prophets’. He passed away in 1946, which implies that his dream of a spiritual art was most probably crashed by the discovery of the shoah.

Common roots in a time of war

The second translation into German of Cennino Cennini’s Book of the Art by the Dutch painter Jan Verkade (1868 ‑ 1946) came to light in the mid of World War I. Verkade signed it as Benedictine Father Willibrord Verkade. The title page includes a reference to Verkade’s belonging to the Beuronese Art School. While the translation had been finished in 1914, the preface is dated October 1915 and the book was published in Strasburg, (at that time, still part of Wilhelm II’s Germany) in 1916. In the midst of World War I.

Paul Gauguin, Self-Portrait with the Yellow Christ (1890)
Paul Gauguin, Self-Portrait with the Yellow Christ (1890)
Auguste Renoir ‑ Self-Portrait (1910)
Auguste Renoir ‑ Self-Portrait (1910)

Only a few years before, a French painter, Henri Mottez (1858-1937), had published the second French version of Cennino’s treatise (1911). This had occurred thanks to the encouragement and support by a colleague of him, Maurice Denis (1870-1943). It was the revision of the firstFrench version, performed by Victor Mottez (1809-1897), Henri’s father, in 1858. Maurice Denis, a painter and critic of art in “L’Occident”, a conservative catholic journal, also advised Auguste Renoir (1841-1919) to draft the introduction ‑ in the form of a public supporting letter, addressed to Henri Mottez ‑ and made sure the book would be published in 1911 in the Biblioteque de l’Occident series (see: Helbert). According to d’Ayala Valva, Denis’ role in the translation of Cennino Cennini’s book might have been even more important than a simple adviser.

The common root of the two translations (French, 1911, by Henri Mottez; German, 1914-1916, by Jan Verkade) lies in the intense exposure of Jan Verkade to the French culture. In 1891, at the age of 23, Verkade had spent some crucial months in Paris and Bretagne, making acquaintance with Paul Gauguin and becoming part of the artist symbolist group Nabis, including Pierre Bonnard, Maurice Denis, Paul Ranson, Ker-Xavier Roussel, Paul Sérusier, and Édouard Vuillard, at that time all very young.

Émil Bernard ‑ Portrait of Paul Sérusier (1893)
Émil Bernard ‑ Portrait of Paul Sérusier (1893)
Maurice Denis ‑ Self-Portrait (1921)
Maurice Denis ‑ Self-Portrait (1921)

  In the pages below, the focus is on the relationship between Jan Verkade and the two Nabis members with the strongest interest in aesthetics and theory of art: Paul Sérusier, who had been the closest disciple of Gaugain and introduced Jan to the group, and Maurice Denis, who put into writing the main theories of the group. Many factors are common to the three: the attention to art theory and the writing of books on art, for common interest for religion and spirituality and ‑ in stylistic terms ‑ the similar use of colours. All these aspects will be treated below. There is evidence of an intense interaction from 1898 to 1913. It is most probably Maurice Denis who brought Cennino Cennini to the knowledge of Jan Verkade. According to Robert L. Herbert, Denis had read Cennino already in 1902. Already at 20 years ‑ Verkade writes in the first volume of his memories, entitled “Yesterdays of an artist-monk” and owned by this library in the German version “Die Unruhe zu Gott” (1920) –Denis had a strong interest in art theory, philosophy and Catholicism. Verkade speaks of him as “a true friend” with a “serious, deep interest in religion”. He admires his broad interest in philosophy of art and politics. Of him Verkade said: “Maurice Denis has made of me a French man”. Contacts between Verkade and Denis remained intense also after Verkade entered in the Benedictine order in the German monastery of Beuron in 1902. Denis visited him in Beuron several times, and they also met in Montecassino and Paris (accompanied by Paul Sérusier). They also maintained an intense correspondence. It was also not only a one-way direction of influence, by which Germany imported French art. The Munich born Peter Lenz, later Father Desiderius Lenz (1832-1928) described the symbolism-based aesthetic of the Beuronese Art School with a writing of 1898, entitled “Zur Ästhetik der Beuroner Schule” (owned by this library in the English version ‘The aesthetics of Beuron and other writings’). In 1905, the text was translated into French by Paul Sérusier, with an introduction of Maurice Denis, in the Bibliotheque de l’Occident. This was the same series of the translation of Cennino by Henri Mottez in 1911. In an age when Germany and France were at war, many common cultural roots linked therefore the two countries. Let us list them. First, as mentioned above, both Verkade as well Denis had been members of the artist group of the Nabis, and had been both disciples of Paul Gaugain. Second, they were both convinced of the central role of symbolism, synthetism, spiritualism and religion in art. Third, they were both integral members of what Renoir called, in his letter prefacing Mottez’s translation, the “catholic culture”. Fourth, they also shared an interest for common art technique, with common passions for themes like colours and frescos. Moreover, the shared roots between France and Germany dated back to the earlier generations. Victor Mottez (Henri’s father and ‑ as already mentioned ‑ the first translator of Cennino in French in 1858) was strongly influenced by the Nazarenes. He had learned the fresco technique from Johann Friedrich Overbeck (1789- 1869) and had worked together with Peter Cornelius (1783-1867) at Saint-Germain-l’Auxerrois (d’Ayala Valva). The same Nazarene painters played a role in Peter Lenz’s artistic formation. Cornelius provided him with a scholarship to pay a visit to Rome, where he met with Overbeck. While Lenz did not eventually follow the Nazarene style, he was certainly influenced by their techniques and mystics. These observations show that the two German and French translations had a common (or at least a similar) cultural background. Unfortunately ‑ notwithstanding the long friendship, the common religious ardour and the similarity of views on art ‑ commonalities and similarities were not sufficient to compensate and overcome the rifts between the two cultures at war.

Maurice Denis ‑ Cathédrale de Quimper (1923)
Maurice Denis ‑ Cathédrale de Quimper (1923)
Maurice Denis ‑ Love, Faith, Hope (1915)
Maurice Denis ‑ Love, Faith, Hope (1915)

                              On 25 November 1916, Maurice Denis wrote an article for Le Correspondant on “The present and future of French painting”, to discuss how to eliminate any residual German influence on French art (see: Denis, 1922). Even more: in the article, he extensively explained that he had never been subject to any German influence and clarifies that ‑ in the case of his frequent contacts with the Beuron monastery, located in Germany- he had only gained very general views on modern art (p.26). Even Jan Verkade, the artist-monk, in his second book of memories, “In quest of beauty” (owned by this library in the 1930 original German version entitled “Der Antrieb ins Vollkomene”) wrote about “the courage and the competence of the German army”, thanks to which the Beuron monastery had not been touched by war. It is known that Verkade did not paint anymore between 1915 and 1924, possibly a consequence of the war shock. A third volume by Verkade (“Spuren des Daseins” ‑ Traces of existence) was terminated in 1935, two years after Hitler had taken the power in Germany, and published in 1938. It was not the third part of his memories, but more a compilation of aphorisms, with few mentions of art, like if Verkade had withdrawn from the world. In any case, there is no reference anymore to Maurice Denis and Paul Sérusier, with whom he had written ‑ in 1920 ‑ to form the ‘catholic trio’ of painting. Also Verkade’s correspondence with Sérusier, published by the latter in the book “ABC de la peinture”, terminated with a letter dated 1913. I sincerely hope that contacts continued, among these three friends who had been so active in sharing common ideas about art and religion, but unfortunately I did not find any trace of it.

Common Themes on Cennino Cennini’s Book of the Art

In his Preface Verkade wrote: “if one asked me, what is the benefit of this writing [the Book of the Art], it consists mainly in a better understanding of that art ‑ which today has become again so dear to us ‑ whose heroes are Giotto, the Memmis, Lorenzetti and Orcagna. Through Cennini’s treatise ‑ seemingly so dry, ‑ the same lovely spirit waves which is touching us in the work of those masters. It is the spirit of reverence and piety, of love and enthusiasm, which ‑ naïve, but staunch in faith ‑ tries to shape clear mirror pictures of its almost unrecognised strength and delicacy. The book brings closer to us that spirit, which does not belong anymore to our times”. He adds: “The new direction of painting will be a spiritual one. Painting has been however supported so far by techniques of the age of pure realism. May perhaps Trecento painters and the teacher on their painting methods [note of the editor: Cennino Cennini] help to develop better fitting methods of expression? ”. In those years, Maurice Denis would have agreed with the reference to spiritualism as main direction of modern art. In a 1919 speech entitled “The new directions of Christian art”, he took the view: “If there is anything characteristic and certain in the general evolution of art since 50 years is that it striving more and more to escape naturalism ‑ in the literal sense of reality ‑ to orient itself towards spiritual sense, towards synthesis, towards decorative expression.” Renoir’s reasoning is not very dissimilar. However, he does not refer to spiritualism, and even doubts it will be ever possible to recover the state of mind of the old masters. While praising Cennino’s work in the introductory letter to Mottez’s translation, he dwells on the causes of decadence of painting in his age, and identifies three of them. First, the loss of religious feeling (the past splendour of the culture catholique was at the basis of the blossoming of arts), replaced by rationalism and technology (at the time of Cennini artists decorated temples; today they decorate railway stations); second, the emancipation of the artist from shared traditions, which had previously preserved the ultimate cultural basis for the production of collective art works (i.e. cathedrals); and third, the specialisation of labour and labour division in industrial production, which had greatly reduced the role of crafts in material creation, replacing creative manual work with alienated mass production.

Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841-1919) Girl Reading (1909)
Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841-1919) Girl Reading (1909)
Henri Mottez (1858-1937) ‑ Girl reading
Henri Mottez (1858-1937) ‑ Girl reading

 For Renoir, the reading of Cennino in the early 1890s was one of the reasons confirming and even reinforcing his anti-modernist attitude in the last phase of his painting (together with the previous journeys through Italy in 1881-1882 and the discovery of classicism in Venice). This phase of Renoir’s art production was already at that time subject to severe criticism.   The writer Camille Mauclair (1872-1945) tells us in his Servitude et Grandeur littéraires of 1922 that he visited the old Renoir in Cagnes, where he lived as from 1889 until his death in 1919. “Since long time, this master ‑ who had previously signed the most gentle masterpieces of a well-adjusted sensuality ‑ was not producing anything more but overweight naked women, deformed by elephantiasis, smeared in red-violet, carrying enormous bodies with small heads on the top, with mouths à la femme fatale, flat noses, stupid eyes; those paintings are however sold at very high prices and appreciated for human respect.(…) I found that suffering old man fully mesmerised by a reading, of which he spoke with a naive and touching enthusiasm. ‘An Italian of the XIV century. It is astonishing what those people knew. Today, people do not know anything more. I am learning things here on which I had doubts. … I know what I still miss, I cannot believe it. … I just borrowed it’. Very moved from this modesty, I looked at the book. It was the small treatise on painting of the good and mediocre Cennino Cennini”. Unfortunately, Mauclair does not inform us precisely on the year of that meeting. If the late phase of Renoir’s painting was criticised by Mauclair, it encountered to the contrary the unconditioned support of the art critic Denis, as a sign of the possibility to combine “synthesis and tradition”. Already in the 1890s, Denis spoke of “The definition of Néo-traditionisme”; in 1910, he wrote an article entitled “From Gauguin and Van Gogh to Classicism”. Gaugain’s last years, together with Cezanne’s art production, were considered by Denis as the climax of art. In any case, the admiration for Cennino in Renoir’s letter is explicit: “Cennini’s treatise is not only a technical manual; it is also a history book which does not speaks to us about battles or court intrigue, but which initiates us to the life of these élite workers. It is thanks to them that Italy, like Greece and France, has achieved the purest glory. If they did not always make fortune or left their names to history, they have enriched their mother countries of an invaluable treasury. And they have created the features by which we recognise their countries from the others. One has to insist on it. It is the ensemble of art pieces left by numerous artists ‑ forgotten or unknown ‑ which makes the grandeur of a country ‑ and not the original masterpiece of a genius. The latter, isolated among his contemporaries, cannot ‑ most frequently ‑ be boxed within any borders or at any time: he overcomes them. The former ones ‑ to the contrary ‑ personify at the same time their era and their territory, almost their soil. Having said that (and without underestimating the glory which binds artists like Rafeal, Titian, Ingres or Corot to their times), it would not make any sense ‑ isn’t? ‑ to pretend writing a treatise on painting for such exceptional human beings. Those to which the Italian master addressed himself were not all geniuses, but always remained wonderful workers. Indeed, to build up good craftsmen is the unique goal which Cennino proposed himself“. Cennino Book of the Art had been alreadytranslated in German by Albert Ilg in 1871. What are the reasons why Jan Verkade felt necessary to produce a new German version in 1914-1916? The pages below will consider two sets of reasons: (i) the technical-practical reasons, linked to the interest for art techniques, and in particular colour and frescos; and (ii) the role of Verkade’s beliefs from an aesthetic point of view, linked to his acquaintance with Gaugain, his participation in two art movements (the Nabis in France and the Beuronese art school in Germany) and the role of conservative Catholicism in art.

The technical-practical reasons of the new German version

Many factors indicate that Verkade’s primary goal was linked to technical and practical reasons, as mentioned by the translator himself. The translation is a gift by a painter for the painters. It is a technical-pratical purpose which Jan Verkade shared with several other translators of his time (d’Ayala Valva). However, also in absence of any specific practical reasons, Verkade would have been probably tempted to replace Ilg’s version with his own one, simply to offer a more modern German language to the readers. All previous pages have also made abundantly evident that both the cultural environment as well the aesthetic beliefs of Verkade were profoundly different from those of the first German translator of Cennino Cennini. The young Ilg (his work was completed at 24 years) would have challenged many of the above statements by Verkade, Denis and Renoir on art in general, but also on Cennino in particular. Moreover, Verkade’s views on Cennino also diverged from any of the diverse other opinions on Cennino by members of the Vienna School of History of Art, like Rudolf Eitelberger von Edelberg or Julius von Schlosser. In the second volume of his memories, Verkade tells us about an episode in 1900, when he was already active in Beuron: “I took part in the painting of the entrance of our church. At that time, I tried to paint with fresco technique following exactly the prescriptions of Cennino Cennini, an indirect disciple of Giotto, whose famous Booklet (Büchlein) entitled Il Libro della Pittura I had studies (and I would later on translate). I came however to the conclusion that in our region it is better no to mix any calcium line to the colours, because the colour shades ‑ once the plastered has dried ‑ hardly become lighter and it gets possible to obtain a deeper colour scale, which is better fitting with our Northern landscape. (…)” (Verkade, 1931). In other words: Verkade had tried to experiment already at an early stage of his career the techniques of the Book of the Art and had been confronted with technical difficulties: hence, perhaps, the desire to clarify some technical problems through a new translation of the Book. The choice of the title, with the reference to the term “Büchlein”, the small book, or the booklet (perhaps, today one would speak of a pocket book) also reveals the intention to avoid any reference to a proper book and even more to a treatise. Interestingly, in his memories Verkade used the term “Büchlein” also to define his own catechism: a small book with a clear practical doctrine orientation. The term is in any case a unique choice among Cennino’s translators. It should be however mentioned that the term was ‑ most probably –a term which could be used as a synonymous for book (differently from today’s German): Julius Schlosser uses it 37 times in his Kunstliteratur of 1924. It has been already mentioned that the front page includes a reference to Jan Verkade’s belonging to the Beuronese Art School, another sign of his intention to present himself as a painter. This is also his first statement in the Preface: “The following translation is not a strictly scientific work, and does not want to be one, as the translator is a practicing painter, but not a scholar (…) I have considered first of all the needs of the artists, and therefore added to the book a few aesthetic orientations and technical painting prescriptions” (p.v). In a dry and at times even pedantic book, like the treatise of Cennino, consisting of more than 100 pages of recipes and prescriptions applicable to mediaeval times, it is crucial to identify selection criteria and offer them to the reader. While Ilg’s preface contained an upfront reference to those (very few) chapters which contained statements of general reference on art (and on which a reader interested in history of art should therefore focus its attention), Verkade explains that he has put into evidence ‑ by using a different and more readable font ‑ those passages which appear important for the purposes of a contemporaneous artist. This ensures ‑ says the translator ‑ to avoid that an impatient colleague would miss the most important passages, before setting the book aside. And also avoids that a painter would lose time, by testing all procedures, including those which are today not any more relevant in technical terms. This is therefore the main difference between Albert Ilg and Jan Verkade. The first one aims at assessing Cennino in his past historic and cultural context (Gesammtgeist), while for the second Cennino is a book written for contemporaries, to validate technical aspects of painting which are still relevant. From Verkade’s point of view two technical aspects treated by Cennino are still relevant: the art of producing colours and the art of producing frescos. The two aspects are intertwined.

Synthetist colour: Gauguin, Sérusier, Verkade e Denis

Maurice Denis ‑ Sunlight on the terrace (1890)
Maurice Denis ‑ Sunlight on the terrace (1890)
Paul Sérusier (1863-1927) The Fern Harvesters in the Bois d'Amour at Pont Aven (1910)
Paul Sérusier (1863-1927) The Fern Harvesters in the Bois d’Amour at Pont Aven (1910)

Let us give the floor to Verkade himself, commenting the use of colours in Cennino’s Book of the Art (pag. 76, footnote 1. A number of key footnotes in the translation are crucial to understand Verkade’s stance on arts in 1914-1916): “When Michelangelo painted the Cappella Sistina, he renounced to make use of the splendid use of colour of a Titian and of the much easier technique of oil colours, to go back to the much elder technique of fresco and the more laborious dotting technique, which is the most reasonable and pays most, if you paint with watercolours. Cennini speaks always about the art of “colorire”, in contrast to drawing, and this expression is highly appropriate. The works from Giotto’s school until Angelico are indeed coloured drawings, no painting in the sense of Rubens or Velazquez. And rightly so, because they are almost completely religious (and therefore monumental) works. They want to serve, not to be a goal by themselves, and therefore they are simple and plain, as it is appropriate for somebody serving. They serve however the Highest, and here applies wonderfully the truth of the say “Like the Lord so the servant”. In the moderation on the use of their means of expression, the painters of Giotto’s school are luminous instances for the concentration of power. An example: they do not let themselves in the chromatism of colours, in reflex effects and in tonal value contrasts in the modern meaning. And however they are able to provide in the easiest way a full richness in the appearance of their works, which correspond to nature: through the rich gradation of tones, from pure colour to white. Every form has a telling colour, not ten ones or even more, and therefore it has a great effect.” A few years later, in 1920, Verkade wrote in his memories: „Gaugain searched for what obeys rules in the art of all times and taught his disciples ‑ who considered that the generation of the open air painters and the pointillistes had to be dismissed ‑ to appreciate and understand the old masters. He brought the composition of the painting again to its right and learned from Goethe that the artist can show his strength only in the limitation of the means. Thus he permitted to his disciples at the beginning to make use only of 5 to 6 colours: Prussian blue, rose madder, vermilion, chrome yellow or cadmium, yellow ochre and white. (Verkade, 1920, p. 64) In sum, Cennino’s concept of ‘colorire’ (mentioned in the 1914-1961 translation) is seen as a prototype of Gaugain’s ‘colourism’ (mentioned in the 1920 memories). Anna-Maria von Bonsdorff identifies Paul Gaugain and his followers Paul Sérusier, Jan Verkade and Maurice Denis as the four representative of a specific colour practice which she calls “synthetist colour practice”, based upon the tertiary combination of yellow, violet, blue, red, green, orange (with a tertiary combination, like if it were tones combined in music accords). For instance, Gauguin refers to the ‘mysterious’ tertiary close-tones and subtle resonances of bluish-greens, purplish-reds and orange-yellows. Tertiary combinations are used to enhance the power of the colour and the expressive force in painting to the extreme. The key words for “synthetist colours”, writes von Bonsdorff, “are supernatural, vision, dynamism, primitive, emotion, sensation and dream image”. The colour range becomes the key expressive force in painting. The reference to musical categories has its own basis in the concept of ‘global art’, typical of symbolism. Maurice Denis was also a music critic, and several works have been written on his musical aesthetics. He was close, among others, to Albéniz, Fauré, Koechlin, Debussy and Ravel. He promoted ancient and religious music. In musical terms, I feel however that the most relevant reference (more than the symbolism of Debussy) is the work of Olivier Messiaen (1908-1992), an incredibly talented musician with a strong interest in religion and mysticism. I own a book by Andrew Shenton entitled “Messiaen the theologician”. Messiaen entered the conservatory at 11 and became organist at the Église de la Sainte-Trinité in Paris in 1931, a post held until his death. He combined serialism and colourism, without losing harmony. Maurice Denis inspired him for his opera “San Francis of Assisi”. Messiaen remains one of the most fascinating musicians of the XX century. He theorised the combination of music and colours. I would recommend anybody who did not do it yet, to listen at least once in the life to the Vingt Regards sur l’Enfant Jésus (20 Contemplations of the Infant Jesus) or his rich music inspired to birdsongs.

The spiritual strenght of frescos

Gabriel-Albert Aurier (1865-1892)
Gabriel-Albert Aurier (1865-1892)

Again from Verkade’s memories: “At the beginning of the 1890s a battle cry passed from a painting studio to the other: ‘Get rid of the easel painting; away with this useless furniture. Painting is again due to pay service to global art, not to be an end in itself. The work of the painter begins where the architect considers his own work finished. Therefore walls here, so we paint! Way with the perspective! The wall must remain a surface, not be broken by the appearance of endless horizons. There are not paintings, only decorations. This somehow hasty program, which benefited more arts and crafts than painting, seemed to have served as a directive to the Italian primitives, who were therefore the focus of the artists’ interests at that time”. (Verkade, 1920, p, 80).

Charles Baudelaire (1821-1867)
Charles Baudelaire (1821-1867)

That “battle cry” originated from the art critic Gabriel-Albert Aurier (1865-1892), who published an article in Le Mercure de France on 2 March 1891, entitled Le symbolisme en peinture ‑ Paul Gauguin, (Symbolism in painting ‑ Paul Gaugain) containing the famous expression “Walls, walls, give him walls”. In this article ‑ von Bonsdorff writes ‑ Aurier summarises the characteristic criteria “for the new (…) symbolist art which, he claimed, was essentially subjective, synthetic, symbolist and ideist. (…) It is important to stress how strongly Aurier considered symbolist art to be linked to the decorative aspect. Admiration for ancient and primitive frescoes was an essential link. The mysterious archaic and Early Renaissance art was the ideal model for the complexity of symbolist art. The possibilities of pictorial narrative, combining word, image and history, or imagined history, found its true means of expression in the decorative mural art of the nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries, calling it l’art célébral pur. (…)

Aurier, writes Von Bonsdorff again, was in the tradition inaugurated by Charles Baudelaire (1821-1867), who, in Le Peintre de la vie modern (1863) “comments strongly on archaic art as a powerful style which should be admired. Baudelaire, moreover, accepted ‑ indeed recommended ‑ that drawing departs from the perspectival approach to Nature developed since the Early Renaissance by naturalistically-inclined artists so as to accentuate its elements of musicality. He specifically advocated a return to the expressive power and harmonious effects achieved by archaic artists through abridgment and deformation.” The tradition of fresco had been kept alive in France also by the disciples of Ingres, and above all by Victor Mottez, the already mentioned author of the first translation of Cennino in 1858, and father of Henri Mottez. Literally, almost all Mottez’s frescos succumbed to weather conditions, poor maintenance and possible art technique failures. The pictures of the frescos from Saint Martin in Saint-Germain l’Auxerrois and from Saint Sulpice in Paris are scanned from a 1910 monograph by the French artist Abel Fabre (1846-1922) on Christian art. Verkade 21Victor Mottez, Saint Martin, Saint Germain l’Auxerrois, fresco, 1846   Verkade 22   Victor Mottez, Saint Martin resuscitant un mort Saint Sulpice, fresco, 1862   It will be Maurice Denis ‑ in his late phase ‑ to develop most the theme of the fresco, both in practice as well as in theory. Interestingly, at that time he will have abandoned is strong rejection of naturalism, at the search of a median solution between modern art and classicism. The new art ‑ represented by Cezanne ‑ will not reproduce the nature, but it will represent it. In the already quoted article entitled ‘The present and future of French painting’ published in 1916 (the same year as Jan Verkade’s translation of Cennino) he saw the fresco as a technique which would permit the return of tradition, of common sense against deformation (the same ‘deformation’ which Baudélaire supported in the 1860s and which was central to the ‘synthetist’ art), and of poetry in painting. The fresco becomes the ‘weapon’ of decorative painting against futurism, expressionism, cubism and other avant-garde art movements. Together with the painter George Desvallières, Maurice Denis will create in 1919 the “Ateliers d’art sacré” (sacred art workshops) « to provide churches, and in particular those destroyed by war, with religious art pieces which would be at the same time aesthetic, traditional and modern”. One of their aims will be to renovate sacred art against Victor Mottez’s schemes of “Saint-Sulpicisme”, the popular and devotional sacred art from which popular images of saints distributed to pilgrims and other believers are derived.

Maurice Denis, La Pentecôte, Apse fresco The Holy Church of Spirit, Paris, 1934  Verkade 23

Verkade 24 George George Desvallières, Via Crucis, Fresco, Church of St. Barbe, Wittenheim, 1931

Paul Gauguin - The Vision after the Sermon (Jacob wrestling with the Angel) (1888)
Paul Gauguin – The Vision after the Sermon (Jacob wrestling with the Angel) (1888)

It goes without saying that murals will be at the very core of the Buronese art, on which more will be said below. Verkade himself, in a letter to Maurice Denis of 1906, writes: “As far as the walls are concerned, I have been all in all the most faithful to the programme we had” (Kehrbaum).

Jan Verkade - La route (ca 1891)
Jan Verkade – La route (ca 1891)

Symbolism and Synthesism, from Gauguin to the Nabis

Paul Sérusier - The Talisman (1888)
Paul Sérusier – The Talisman (1888)

As already mentioned, Jan Verkade wrote, in his preface to Cennino’s translation: “The new direction of painting will be a spiritual one”. Speaking of himself, Paul Sérusier and Maurice Denis, a few years later he added, at page 228 of his 1920 memories: “We were the apostles of Symbolism, Synthetism and Traditionalism”. And Annette Kehrbaum lists the common formal stylist elements of the three, referring to the use of lines, colours and composition. The line serves the purpose of the intentional ‘deformation’ (a concept already mentioned above by Baudelaire) through clear contours; the colours are radically simplified; the composition combines elements of real and unreal (see Paul Gaugain’s The Vision after the Sermon) (Fig. 25).

Jan Verkade - Two women in a field (ca. 1892)
Jan Verkade – Two women in a field (ca. 1892)

Let us see first how Paul Sérusier explains the key concepts in his 1921 work “ABC de la Peinture ‑ Correspondance”, owned by this library in a 1956 edition. His 1888 painting ‘The talisman’ (Fig. 27) is considered the prototype of syntethism: “The Nature is the ensemble of goods which are captured by our own senses. In the impossibility to invent forms and colours, we will make use of those which are provided by our eyesight. If his art were reduced to imitate ‑ reproducing them on a screen ‑ perceived images, the painter would simply produce a mechanical act, to which none of the superior faculties of a human being would contribute: this would be the impression, of which note is taken without adding anything, a non-intelligent work. The nature, if intended like this, is not painting any more. Let us in fact analyse the formation of a visual sensation. A human being normally builds up with two eyes, of which each transmits an image to the brain, and these images are different. It is necessary to choose one and destroy the other. Beyond it, our mind builds up ‑ deducting it from the other two ones ‑ a third picture, which also contains the localisation in space, or a three-dimensional picture.

Given the flat form of the painting, it becomes necessary to represent this three-dimensional picture or to destroy it. In both cases, a simplification of the image will permit us to put it down in a flat surface: therefore a new modification of the picture, an intentional modification, in view of the adaptation. The sensation which the object gives us evokes previously acquired notions, which are conserved by memory. The most important is the concept of the object, which is the result of a generalisation. After having recognised and named the object, our mind works: it makes use of the experiences previously provided by the other senses: form, situation in the space, weight, movement or rest, usefulness, etc. Personal feelings cumulate with these data: love or repulsion (beauty or ugliness). To all these factors which modify the image are to be added the psychological and physiological state of the subject, which may be variable at every instant (sensitivity). Or these coefficients have acted on what has been perceived to the point to transform it into a mental image. We are very far from the original visual image which has nothing but a subdued role”. This mental image is the synthesis, which has to be inspired to universal style rules, valid through history and across cultures, which have respect proportion and golden ratio. An entire chapter is devoted by Paul Sérusier to mathematical equations. He considered this formalised mathematical concept of art as his main contribution to art history.

Paul Gauguin - The Yellow Christ (1889)
Paul Gauguin – The Yellow Christ (1889)
Jan Verkade ‑ Paysanne de St-Nolff
Jan Verkade ‑ Paysanne de St-Nolff

Let us see how Jan Verkade uses the same language ‑ in 1914-1916 ‑ to comment Cennino Cennini on drawing (footnote 1, page 21) and to make of him a predecessor of contemporary synthetic art. „Nature drawings of the old masters ‑ in particular the primitives ‑ follow always a style, while the drawings of moderns rarely do it. One of the main reasons for this striking appearance is that those painters ‑ in their art work ‑ knew how to combine the information which they captured from objects with the impression of the appearance at a given moment. They never reproduced simply the current picture of things, but always the synthesis of the comprehensive perceptions, and therefore ‑ when drawing nature ‑ they saw it more objective than we do. They approached the nature with full respect, as something perfect, which has its real existence and form outside them, and this reverence originated from their deepest religious sense. In general, reverence, morality, pureness and shame belong to the heart on the artist; at the same time, personality and naivety, grace and dignity in the faces of their fellow human beings belong to the most important conditions, to produce a great art. Otherwise the artist gets lost in his own interior, where the artist will remember only earthy and sloppy figures.”

In his 1920 memories, Verkade comments on Paris art in 1891. “In painting, Gaugain hated the slavish depiction of nature and took ‑ already at the time when I met him ‑ a certain distance from impressionism. If he indeed started from sensual perceptions, he taught however that the natural impression must be combined with the aesthetic recognition, which shall choose, ordinate, simplify and summarize. He meant that the painter cannot rest, until he has not given again to light the delivery (in the form of a visual decoration, to the joy of all those who see it) which is produced by his mind in a coalition with the reality. A double birth would be therefore at the origin of the art piece: a birth in mind and a material birth. The latter can however can be successfully created only through the application of the eternal laws of art representation, which permit us to mediate between our experience and those of others. And if Gauguin insisted on the logical structure of the composition, on the harmonic distribution of hell and dark coloured spots, on the simplification of forms and relations to reach a strong, intensive outline effect (to which the inhibition of the contrast between light and shadow would contribute), he did it because he could show that he knew the most important expression means of painting, and had been learning diligently from painters of all ages”. (p. 63-64)

In conclusion, Anna-Maria Von Bonsdorff  writes: “The synthetist artist aimed to synthetise three features: first, the outward appearance of natural forms, second the artist’s feelings about their subjects, third, the purity of the aesthetic consideration of lines, colour and form so that colours directly affected the senses. (p. 68)”.

It is again Aurier, in his above mentioned article on Gaugain and symbolism, to explain us how this translates in spiritual terms. “An art piece is the translation ‑ in a special and natural language ‑ of a residual spiritual given ‑ of a valuable value ‑ which is as a minimum a fragment of the spirituality of the artist, and as a maximum the entire essential spirituality of different objective beings. The complete art piece is therefore a new being, one could say absolutely a living being, because it has a soul to animate it, which is the synthesis of two souls, the soul of the artist and the soul of the nature.”

Jan Verkade ‑ From rejection of chocolate to nourishment of the spirit 

Time has come to frame the theoretical discussions on aesthetics ‑ mentioned above ‑ in the biography of Jan Verkade, from his departure from the Netherlands until his belonging in the Beuron Benedictine monastery of Beuron, in South-Western Germany.

Jan Verkade was born in Northern Holland in 1868, from a protestant Mennonite family.  He was the son of an industrialist, whose company (http://www.verkade.nl/) still exists (it is well known for producing chocolate, cakes and biscuits). The father, Ericus Gerhardus Verkade, established it on 2 May 1886. The twin brother of Jan took over. This is the family tree:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Verkade_(family).

Jan Rinke - Advertisment for Verkade's biscuits (ca. 1900)
Jan Rinke – Advertisment for Verkade’s biscuits (ca. 1900)

Jan Verkade did not like the perspective of entering into the family business, and abandoned the commerce school for art. Perhaps for this reason, he wanted to depart from the Netherlands, and did it into direction of Paris in 1891, the capital of art in Europe. He wanted to accelerate his life’s steps and break many taboos for the Dutch society of that time. An overwhelming series of events, inextricably linked to religion and art, followed. He made his acquaintance with Paul Sérusier (only a few hours after having reached Paris) and a few days later with Paul Gauguin and Maurice Denis. He became a member of the Nabis. The religious vocation became visible already in Paris, during his visits to the Louvre (for him art was possible only with religion) and the Notre-Dame Cathedral. After Gauguin left Paris, he moved to Brittany in 1892, where he converted to Catholicism (he had never really embraced Mennonism). After some months in Brittany, he visited Italy, together with the Danish friend and painter Mogens Ballin (who also converted from Protestantism to Catholicism in Florence, in those days). They visited the Franciscan monastery of Fiesole, where he got passionate for monastery life and Trecento painting. In the meantime, the father made him clear he could not finance any more his peregrine life between France, Italy and Germany; he responded that he had decided to be a religious painter and to take the vows. He stayed a few months in Fiesole, where some Franciscan monks told him about the Beuronese art. He wrote from Florence a letter to Peter (Desiderius) Lenz, met him already in 1893 and in 1894 (only three years after having left the Netherlands) entered as novice in Beuron, where he turned his name into Willibrord.

From that moment on, his entire life will develop in the Beuron monastery, but not necessarily among its walls. In fact, Jan Verkade travelled a lot to perform his art pieces in other monasteries (we already recalled Cassino, where he worked until 1905), but also ‑ as we will see ‑ for study purposes and as an ambassador of Beuronese art in Europe.

The Beuronese Art

Peter Lenz, alias Father Desiderius Lenz (the addressee of Jan Verkade’s letter from Florence) was a Benedictine monk who had created in 1868 the Beuronese Art School (originating from the Beuron monastery). Let us him elucidate his art (in Verkade’s memories), explaining the origin of that art movement. Many motives are common to those of French symbolism.


Peter Lenz and Jakob Wüger, Mauriskapelle, Beuron (1870)
Peter Lenz and others, Montecassino Abbey, The crypta in Beuronese style


 “I very much regretted that modern art had lost direction and surrendered to naturalism, becoming simply a variable of individual preferences. For many years I had confronted myself, completely helpless, with the nature and its own continuously occurrences, until I finally came to the conclusion that a simple awkward copying of the nature will never lead to the quality of the old world. Therefore, I tried to understand better the art of creation of antiques. The works of old Christian and byzantine art ‑ as well as those of Giotto ‑ had taught me that geometry and separation are the main factors in the exercise of arts. However, I missed with them the conscious and intentional use of these imperative means. Old Christians and byzantine artists made use of measuring and separating apparently only due to a debilitated old tradition and Giotto simply made use of his own feelings. Old Greek masters, to the contrary, seemed to have used precise rules on measuring and separating. Which were these rules? (…) in particular the study of figures on Greek vases permitted me to make progress. Through the study of vase figures I finally arrived to the monumental work of Lepsius on old Egyptian temples. When I saw this work with great emotion, it looked like as I had seen those art pieces since ever. Finally, for the first time my innate feeling for number and symmetry, order and piece found full satisfaction. There I found religiosity as I understand it: an amazing immersion in my own self, and in the depth of eternity.” (p. 203)

In 1871 Lenz elaborated a canon of human proportions, which reveals some communality with constructivism and abstraction, and made of it the basis of the Beuron art. Lenz kept it secret to the external world, but it showed to Verkade, Sérusier and Denis in 1893. It did not mention it in his own work on Aesthetics of 1898, which ‑ as mentioned above ‑ was translated into French by Sérusier and Denis in 1904. However, the interest of the Nabis painters for his work convinced him to finally publish the canon.


Peter (Desiderius) Lenz, Canon (1871)


Peter (Desiderius) Lenz. Proposal for an Angel  (1874)

Jan Verkade explained in the second volume of his memories, published in 1931, that he conceived the Beuronese art as a ‘style in strict sense’. He makes reference to Romano Guardini (1885–1968), a German-Italian theologian and philosopher, close to Martin Heidegger and one of the fathers of the Liturgical Movement. Both Guardini and Heidegger visited very often Beuron. Guardini differentiated between ‘style in general sense’, ‘style in strict sense’ and ‘schema’. The style in general sense is the expression of the creative capacity of a personality (specific and individual), and implies that specific personal elements get a general importance. To the contrary, the style in strict sense “is created when what is individual recedes behind what is general; when what is accidental ‑ depending upon time and location ‑ (…) up to a certain degree is superseded by what is necessary and is valid for any time, location and person; if the simple reality  ‑ which is always concrete and individual ‑ is reshaped in a way that what is typical, what is generally valuable and what is generally meaningful come to the front” (Verkade, 1931, p. 69). A schema is the consequence of an excessive stylisation, based on abstract concepts and rules. Quoting Guardini, Verkade writes: “A real style maintains also in its strictest forms the convincing force of a grown expression”.


Jan Verkade, Christ, St. Michael in Aichhalden (1906)            


Jan Verkade. Crucifixion. Wien-Döbling, Karmeliterkirche (1913/1914)

Verkade’s definition of typical is not “typical” in sense of “individual”, but to the contrary of “Grundtyp”, rather “fundamental typical features”. “Without fundamental typical features there is no great art, and even not a small one. These fundamental typical features are not created ‘by themselves’ and are never generated by the skilfulness of a single artist. Rather, they are traditional features, which receive from each their specific expression. They would however be neither beautiful nor transmissible, if they were not based on simple mass ratios. […] Observation and experience have taught me that in painting ‑ not only in a technical sense, but also in an aesthetic one ‑ much depends upon on which degree of perfection (…) a normalised form [Normalgestalt – note of the translator: the same term used by Gestalt psychologists] is able to provide expression to the things which are represented by the artist [and] are matured in his phantasy (…). All great masters, Giotto as well as Fra Angelico, Piero della Francesca, Leonardo, Michelangelo and Rafael, Dürer and Rubens had their normalised forms, which they knew by heart and used them to play. That this was not otherwise in antiquity is shown by every Egyptian, Greek or Roman work”. (p.79)

The aim of Beuronese art is to be ‘monumental’, characterised by “simplicity, non-differentiation and unity”. “All in all, the conditions to achieve a ‘style in strict sense’ seem to me the following ones: a deep respect for the divine in itself and the creation. Intuitive capacity to shape. Sense of style. Sense for what is necessary and what is general. A spiritual technique of creation (aesthetic geometry). A trained hand. And in particular also the immense fortune to meet the divine in the beautiful, even celestial human figure. The social background for a great style is a solid political system [note of the translator: this is written during the Weimar republic, at a time of deep instability]. While the blossoming of a great, monumental art depends by the combination of fortunate conditions, it has always been ingrained in a strongly managed polity ‑ in which fear of God, tight discipline and order reigned ‑ even if the highest blossom takes place in times, in which signs of decadence become already visible.” (pp.74-75)

The affinity between art and religion, collective style and firm discipline is most probably Jan Verkade’s ultimate interest in Cennino’s Book of the Art, a handbook addressed to artists aiming at a monumental art and a style in strict sense, to use his terminology.

Beuron as European cultural centre

In addition to art, four facts testify that Beuron was indeed a very rich cultural environment. First, the Archabbey hosts still today the largest monastic library of Germany, with 400 thousands volumes, established in the 1920s. Second, Beuron was in those years one of the originating centres of the Liturgical Movement which ‑ starting from the Benedictines in Germany ‑ aimed at refocusing liturgy towards some past values (including, for instance, the importance of Gregorian music and of sacred musical chorales in general). Third, philosophers of major importance like Martin Heidegger (1889-1976) and Max Scheler (1874- 1928) were frequently visiting Beuron. Fourth, Beuron hosted some of the religious leaders of the Christian resistance to Nazism: the Archabbot Raphael Walzer (1888-1966) created a circle of opponents, until he was forced to emigrate in France in 1935. Some of the group members were eventually executed by the Nazis. Among them, the most known personality was Edith Stein (1891 –1942), alias St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, one of the patron saints of Europe, who formed herself religiously in Beuron between 1927 and 1933. She stayed there fifteen times; on Beuron she wrote: “I considered it as the atrium of the heavens”. Edith Stein was a Jewish converted nun, active as philosopher and publicist, who died later on in Auschwitz. Jan Verkade published in 1931 the second volume of his memories. It is unconceivable they did not meet, since ‑ as so-called Gastpater (Host-father) of Beuron ‑ Verkade was in charge of admitting in the monastery all visitors. Unfortunately, these contacts with personalities of such an importance for the history of Europe occurred at a time which is not anymore covered by his memories.

The Beuronese Art in Europe and Jan Verkade as its ambassador

To many readers, several of the facts reported so far may be new. Spiritualism, synthesism, Beuronese art are not among the prevailing icons in art history, today. Discussions on Jan Verkade, Paul Sérusier and Maurice Denis belong to a restrict group of specialists, are not part of standard manuals of history of art, and certainly are nor common among the larger public.

And yet, for several decades, Jan Verkade had a considerable success with his two volumes of memories, quoted several times above, which were originally drafted in Dutch and translated into German, English, French, Spanish, Italian, Czech and Polish. The life of the artist-monk at the search of a synthesis between religion and art was a bestseller for the European between the two World Wars, for a public also probably at the search of some spiritual relief in extremely difficult years. The second volume is concluded by a one-page afterword, explaining that ‑ while the author had intentionally abstained from referring to the economic and political crisis of those years ‑ he was well aware of people’s daily anxiety and concerns.

When he wrote Cennino’s translation in 1914-1916, Jan Verkade was since a decade the intermediary between this rich monastery world and the art community outside. He had travelled, spreading Beuronese art among others in Prague, Cassino, Vienna, Munich, Paris, Jerusalem and again Vienna (twice). He had maintained contacts with painters of the Nabis(not only Denis and Sérusier, but also Émile Bernard and Armand Seguin) and brought them in contact with Peter Lenz. Among his friends, he could count on artists, like the painter Alexej von Jawlensky (1864 –1941) in Munich and the architect Jože Plečnik (1872-1957) in Vienna , and art and literature critics, like Julius Meier-Graefe (1867 –1935) in Germany and Hermann Bahr (1863-1934) in Vienna.

Let us consider the complex question on which follow-up the aesthetic maturation of Jan Verkade’s art (starting from Gauguin’s interpretation of symbolism via the Nabis – in particular Paul Sérusier and Maurice Denis ‑ up to the Beuronese art) had for art of his time. We will consider first ‑ necessarily briefly ‑ the general question on whether certain aspects of Beuronese art (synthetism, role of geometric forms and mathematical rules, canon, tendency to abstraction) are at the origin of other art movements, like cubism. We will look afterwards at Jan Verkade’s fortune in Germany, France, Italy and Austria-Hungary.

The Beuronese Art and Cubism

The main scholar on the impact of Beuronese art on avant-garde movements is Peter Brooke. He studied the writings on aesthetics of Peter Lenz, as well as their impact on the cubist movement, and in particular on Gino Severini and Albert Gleizes. In an afterword on “Peter Lenz and the Twentieth Century” (published in London, 2002), Brooke recalls that Paul Sérusier spoke of himself as the father of Cubism, making reference to his “dogmatic principles” on aesthetics, based on geometry and arithmetic. As already mentioned, Sérusier had been influenced ‑ on his hand ‑ by Peter Lenz theory on “elementary geometrical forms ‑ square, triangle, circle; the ‘root rectangles’; the ‘Golden Section’”.

“Neither Séruzier nor Lenz ‑ continued Brooke ‑ are yet prepared to detach themselves from a representational subject matter, but they argued that, rather than being copied from external appearances, the subject should be built from a base that is essentially abstract.  […] The perspective mechanism is regarded with great suspicion as an obstacle to the expression of this ‘aesthetic geometry”. The painting should, so far as possible, be flat.” These themes, which Lenz had already elaborated in the 1870s, are very close to the heart of the cubists.

Brooke studied the impact of these ideas on two cubist artists, who were both very strongly influenced by spiritual feelings. One is Gino Severini (1883 ‑ 1966), the most classic of cubist artists, who held a long-life correspondence with the theologian Jacques Maritain (see Radin).  The other one is the theorist of cubism, Albert Gleizes (1881 ‑ 1953), who had interests in theology, knew the work of Verkade and the theories of Lenz. Brooke translated the theoretical works of both painters (see Severini).  Both disagreed with many aspects of Lenz’s theories. But also knew them, quoted them in their writing and acknowledged they had value for cubism.


Gino Severini, Dancer = Propeller = Sea (1915)


Albert Gleizes, Painting, Object (1921)

In Germany, during his stay in Beuron, Jan Verkade continued to have contacts with prevailing art movements of his time, like expressionism, cubism and new objectivity. This does not mean he shared their views. To the contrary, in a conversation dated 1923 with the theologian and friend Father Peter Lippert, he spoke of them as pathology. Certainly, from an aesthetic point of view, expressionists in particular were oriented to a form of individualistic realism which was opposed to the style-based symbolism which Verkade practiced as an artist, both in the Nabis as well as in Beuron.


Beuron and Germany (via Verkade)

Verkade came into contact with all these art schools during a long stay in Munich in 1906-1908, where he was for study purposes. The memories do not clarify exactly what those study purposes were. They speak of the period in Munich as a second “Sturm-und-Drang phase of his life”. What is meant here is that Verkade repeated in Munich the extreme intense phase of artistic contacts and production as in Paris and Brittany in 1891-1892. At that time, Munich was one of the capitals of modern art, and many streams of work (first of all, the Blue Rider group) had a religious and spiritual motivation.

And yet the expression “Sturm und Drang”, if expresses the frenetic exchanges with other art schools in Munich, does not have a positive inference for Verkade. Perhaps, he felt that this period had not been appropriate for a monk (see below the information we receive from Jawlensky’s memories); perhaps he felt himself rejected and not understood in Munich. It is however a fact that what could have been a unique occasion of dialogue between spiritual painters of different schools only very partially materialised.

Strangely, Verkade’s memories give us the sense of a very unfortunate time for him: on the one hand, he provides us very limited information about the (rich) art life in the town, on the other hand he tells that this time coincided for him with a creative crisis, as it became evident he felt that was not able anymore to produce good quality ‘traditional’ painting any more.

Verkade refers to his contacts with Hugo Troendle (1882-1955), a secessionist German painter who moved later on to Paris, where he worked with Sérusier and Denis. Verkade also tells us about his admiration for a German painter of the previous century, Hans Marées (1837-1887), stating that this was the first German painter who ever captured his attention and approval.

The memories also do not contain any substantial information on his friendship and intellectual relationship with the Russian painter Jawlensky. He met him during his Munich stay; he painted in the same workshop with him one year long as from 1907 and taught him the principle of synthetic art. Furthermore, he exchanged with him correspondence for the following thirty years. For Jawlensky, who would enter in 1911 the Blue Rider group (with Kandinsky, Macke, Marc und Klee), this was an important encounter.

The collection of aphorisms, letters and memories by  Alexej Jawlenky edited by Maria Passato offers more information about what happened in Munich. The memories were dictated by Jawlensky in a clinic, as he was already sick, in 1937. He wrote: “During an exhibition held on the same year [1906] in the Kunstverein of Munich I met Father Willibrord Verkade of the Beuron Monastery. He was a good painter, an interesting and very cultivated person. He came to visit me every day in my atelier, where we worked together long time, from spring to autumn. He painted still life paintings. His style was highly studied and harmonic, but did not have the power which my painting expressed. My friend wanted to tame exactly that power. This notwithstanding, he was enthusiast of my colourist language, even if we continued to discuss on the previous issue. In the following years he spoke in some books about his life and art experience. In his book “Der Antrieb ins Vollkommene“ of 1931 he described the birth of our friendship and our following encounters. In my atelier Willibrord painted also some wonderful naked figures, and when he took the vows he informed his Father Superior about their existence. As penance, he was forced to travel to Jerusalem to paint a church. He was prohibited to shave; when ‑ one year after his travel to Jerusalem ‑ he came to see me, he had a long and full beard. Unfortunately, we found only thirty minutes to meet, and since then we never met again”.

One year later, in 1938, Jawlensky wrote to Verkade a letter on proportions and spiritualism in art: „For some years I have painted these variations, and then I understood that it was necessary to identify a form for the visage, for I understood that great art should be painted only with religious feelings. And such a feeling I could bring it only in the human face. I understood that the artist must say with his art ‑ through forms and colours ‑ what of him is divine. Therefore, the art piece is a visible God, and art is ‚aspiration to God’“.


Wassily Kandinsky, Concerning the Spiritual Art, Munich, 1912


Alexei Jawlensky, Girl on a yellow chair, 1906-1907

In 1911, Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944) wrote in Munich his essay entitled “Concerning the Spiritual in Art”, published the following year. Kandinsky ‑ as co-founder of the Blue Rider group ‑ was in permanent and very close contact with Jawlensky. Was Jawlensky’s previous acquaintance with Verkade in 1906-1908 at the origin of the interest of the Bluer Ridergroup for spirituality? Or did the interaction with the Russian Orthodox world of these Munich-based painters enhance the spiritualist interest of Jan Verkade? It is difficult to say. There is no reference to Kandinsky in Verkade’s memories. Conversely, there is no direct reference to synthetism and the Nabis, nor to Beuronese art in Kandinsky’s writing, which was translated in several languages and became one of the manifestos of abstract art. Most probably, Verkade and Kandinsky never met, as Verkade left Munich (Spring 1908) exactly when Kandinsky moved from the French Riviera to the Bavarian village of Murnau, close to Munich.

Anyway, reading Kandinski’s manifesto reveals that a few common elements exist: the focus on spiritualism, the role of religion, the role of geometric forms in the composition, the importance of lines and colours in the composition, a reference to pure and eternal art (“which is constant among all people, nations and ages”) and the search for a ‘monumental art’. But the main messages are very different:  “Every cultural period” writes the Russian painter, almost implicitly rejecting Beuronese art “creates art of its own, which can never be repeated again. An effort to revive art-principles of the past, at best, can only result in works of art resembling a still-born child” […] “The artist should have a message to convey: mere mastery of form should not be his goal, but rather the adaptation of form to inner contentment.”

Other German reactions


Admirers of the Beuronese Art in Germany, like the art critic and Jesuit anti-modernist Josef Kreitmaier, took the view that the Beuronese art was radically incompatible with any other contemporaneous form of art, and raised the expectations that new art styles would have developed in the future from Beuron only, setting the foundations for a new sacred art, based on the inevitable evolution of Peter Lenz’s aesthetic doctrine. They firm rejected any dialogue with any other art direction, including those having an explicit or implicit religious background.

Bernd Feiler explains that ‑ immediately after World War I ‑ several art movements with a Christian spiritual identity came to light (besides the already mentioned Blue Rider) in Munich. These movements were motivated by a desire to ensure a renewal of religiosity in art (in parallel to similar, above mentioned, movements to renew the liturgy). The Catholic Church did not understand how important it would have been ‑ for the development of sacred art ‑ to support these reform movements, rather than keeping them at arm’s length. Also against them, local religious hierarchies tried to promote a new ‘monumental art’ based on frescos, whose artists (Johannes Becker-Gundahl, Martin Feuerstein, Gebhard Fugel, Franz Reiter, Josef Eberz or Josef Bergmann) are today almost forgotten, even among specialists.

All in all, with the benefits of insight it is clear that choice for isolation of the official Church did not pay off. In Roger Lipsey’s 600-page monograph on “The Spiritual in Twentieth Century’s Art”, the Beuronese art is not quoted a single time.

Beuron and France (via Verkade)

The Beuronese art’s fortune was relatively strong in France, where ‑ as very extensively studied by Annegret Kehrbaum ‑ Maurice Denis and Paul Sérusier interpreted the Beuronese Art as a symbolist movement, and until 1906-1907 also their art production seemed to be influenced by Lenz and Verkade. They saw the linear and flat representation of figures as a form of “synthèse” in Gaugain’s terms. Elements of similarity included: the use of as ‘directly significant figures’, the practice of a two-dimensional perspective, the reduced use of colours, the interest for old primitive art as “art cérébral pur”, the prominence of decoration, the idea of a universal harmony, of general mathematical rules applicable to art across time and regions, the idea of a renewal of sacred art. The article “Notes on religious painting” by Maurice Denis (published in Denis, 1912) is dedicated to Jan Verkade, and offers an extensive discussion about parallelism between old Christian art (in particular byzantine art) and French symbolism. Jan Verkade replied that Beuronese Art was inspired to old Egyptian and Greek art, not Byzantine one. As already mentioned, Lenz’s book on Aesthetics was translated in French by Paul Sérusier, with an introduction by Maurice Denis (the latter was also published separately in Denis, 1912).


Paul Sérusier. Portrait of Verkade at Beuron (1903)


 Maurice Denis, Decoration de la chappel du College Sainte-Croix du Vesinet (1899)

Contacts between Denis and Sérusier on the one hand and the Beuron school on the other became less frequent in the 1910s, when important differences became evident. Annegret Kehrbaum offers a very extensive and meticulous of the gradual distancing between the two painters and the Beuronese school. In particular Denis and Sérusier observed how the Beuronese environment became increasingly characterised by a collective bias limiting the capacity for artists (including Jan Verkade) to express their individual personality. As from the second part of the second decade of the century, Maurice Denis also changed his stylist orientation, moving to a more classical, Cezanne-influenced style.

Outside the couple Sérusier-Denis, there is limited evidence of the fortune of the Beuronese art in France. As explained below, the country was split in two camps on religion. Paul Gauguin ‑ Jan Verkade’s master ‑ composed in 1897-1898 a manuscript (entitled “The modern spirit and the catholicism”) which stressed the need for spiritualism, but was substantially anti-clerical. Several Nabi painters (with the exception perhaps of Pissarro and Anquetin) considered Lenz’s aesthetics with substantial indifference.


Paul Gauguin. The cover of the manuscript L’Ésprit modern et le catholicisme

Beuron and Italy (the assessment by Giuseppe Prezzolini and an article of future Pope Paul VI)

The main reactions to Beuronese art in Italy are of a different origin. On the one hand Giuseppe Prezzolini (who met directly Verkade) gave an interesting assessment of Beuronese art in 1908. Twenty years later (1929), Giovanni Battista Montini ‑ the future Paul VI ‑ gave a stylistic analysis which testifies the attention of the catholic world towards the Beuronese experience (vivified in Italy by the Montecassino frescos) and ‑ more generally ‑ the particular interest of Papa Montini for every form of art expression. Let us examine briefly both texts.

Giuseppe Prezzolini (1882 –1982) was one of the editors of the anti-positivist philosophical and literary journal Leonardo, founded in 1903. Verkade also met the other editor of Leonardo, Giovanni Papini (1881 -1956). Verkade made acquaintance with Prezzolini in 1905, and the latter visited Beuron in 1906. Two years later, Prezzolini authored an essay on Verkade, distinguishing between two aspects, theory and art. On theory he was dismissive; on art he gave a very supportive assessment.


Giuseppe Prezzolini, La teoria e l’arte di Beuron in Vita d’arte (April 1908)

On theory, he basically made three points. First, he noted that ‑ with the participation in the 1905 Secession exhibition held in Vienna, see below ‑ the Beuronese art had shown a capacity of dialogue with very diverse art cultures. Second, he stated that ‑ while Lenz had learned painting with the Nazarenes ‑ his school had to be assessed in its own right, as it radically rejected any heritage from Gothic art (differently from secessionist artists). Third, he considered the aesthetic premises of the art movement ‑ based on the use of ‘typical features’ as opposed to ‘individual features’– as radically wrong, since “an art which is mechanically searching from the type, and not the individual, ends up being mechanic. The painters’ vision ‑ as every artistic expression ‑ does nothing but extracting the individual from the chaos in which the man with his senses lives; and often circumscribes it in an eternal form (as a status of Phidias, a verse of Dante, a motive by Wagner), but in the unique and individual form which separates and characterizes from the remainder of the world. (…If art consisted in the research of a type, once we would have found the type of a boy or an adult, the type of a tree or a cloud, the type of a wave or of a fall, we would simply need to repeat it always, like a print machine repeats printing. Yes, this would be mechanic art.)”

On art, Prezzolini says that ‑ notwithstanding efforts to strive for an unitarian style ‑ paintings are different, revealing both the personality and the taste of the individuals, as well the evolution between the first works in Beuron and works in Cassino, Prague and Stuttgart. Prezzolini judges the works as “results of art visions”, not of Lenz’s canon. “The artists believed in the theory because the theory mixed itself up with their artistic will and easily followed their specific imagination”. Among all artists, he prefers Father Krug. In conclusions, he takes the view that “the opus of the Beuronese School is catholic theology in painting”. He rejects the view of the Beuronese art as a primitive art: “It is a very sophisticated, highly elaborated. An art, I would dare to say, like those which are created at the end of a civilization, not among those which are the first expression of a new one.”

Prezzolini tried to introduce Verkade to other representatives of the Italian culture, like Ardengo Soffici (1879 –1964). He described him as a friend of Maurice Denis and the representative of an innovative, non-conventional sacred art. As to be expected, this failed: Soffici was anti-clerical (see also: Margherita d’Ayala Valva). See the 600 page monograph of Mariano Apa, for a comprehensive assessment of the fortune of the Beuronese Art in Italy. The recent restoration of the crypt in Cassino (2013) has also raised new interest for this art in Italy.

Exactly in a 1929 article, Giovanni Battista Montini, the future Pope Paul VI (1897-1978), referred to the Beuronese art as “one of the best defines streams of contemporary sacred art, and by now one of the most spread ones”. Its popularity had increased worldwide with the works in the Montecassino Abbey, where Verkade had been active 2 years long. The abbey was in large part destroyed during World War II, but the crypt ‑ frescoed by Beuronese artists including Verkade ‑ has been recently restored and re-opened, 100 years after its inauguration by Pope Piux X in 1913.

Montini’s non uncritical article towards Beuron is certainly worth reading. He stressed the connection between the attempt by Beuronese artist to the renewal of Christian art and the revitalisation of Christian liturgy, the spiritual sense of the direct reference of Beuronese artists to old art (including old Christian one, but above all references from Old Egypt and Greece), the symbolic importance of the absence of any connection to gothic and renaissance (the art of sin), and the iconic value of images based on numbers and mathematical proportions. On the critical side, he interrogated himself on the risk of transforming some of those icons into idols.

Beuron and Austria-Hungary (via Verkade)

Equally intense were relations of Beuronese artists in Austria-Hungary. For the sake of simplicity he had omitted to explain ‑ we are doing it now ‑ that the Beuronese Benedictines had been forced to move to Prague, at the St. Gabriel’s abbey, during the years of the so-called Kulturkampf (the „culture struggle“ of Bismarck against the catholic Church in the 1870s). Therefore, the first impact of Beuronese art outside Germany materialised in Austria-Hungary, well before Jan Verkade’s novitiate. St. Gabriel remained one of the centres of the propagation of Beuronese art in Central Europe (Verkade was active there as from 1896).

Very probably due to the presence of the Beuronese artists as St.Gabriel in Prague ‑ and certainly the one of Verkade ‑ this art style impacted the Prague and Vienna Secessionist movements. Gustav Klimt is reported to have read the Aestheticsmanifesto by Lenz, and appreciated it. The Beuronese school exposed in Vienna at the 1905 Secession Exhibition (Verkade organised the room dedicated to Beuron, where also new paintings were exposed). Later on, Verkade worked at Karmeliterkirche in Döbling (Vienna) immediately before World War I and in 1924.


Postcard on Beuronese Art at the 1905 Vienna Secession Exhibtion (copyright André M. Winter, published with his authoritazion)


Postcard on Beuronese Art at the 1905 Vienna Secession Exhibtion (copyright André M. Winter, published with his authoritazion)


Postcard on Beuronese Art at the 1905 Vienna Secession Exhibtion (copyright André M. Winter, published with his authoritazion)


Postcard on Beuronese Art at the 1905 Vienna Secession Exhibtion (copyright André M. Winter, published with his authoritazion)


Postcard on Beuronese Art at the 1905 Vienna Secession Exhibtion (copyright André M. Winter, published with his authoritazion)


Postcard on Beuronese Art at the 1905 Vienna Secession Exhibtion (copyright André M. Winter, published with his authoritazion)

In Vienna, Jan Verkade had two friends and partners: Hermann Bahr and Jože Plečnik. Verkade had known Bahr since his Paris time in 1891-1892. Bahr ‑ a leading literate and literature critic ‑ was linked to Vienna symbolism and a friend of main authors of that time, like Arthur Schnitzler, Stefan Zweig, Karl Kraus (see Oost). He converted to Catholicism in 1916 and paid several visits to Beuron since then. The secessionist architect Plečnik was the director of the 1905 exhibition to which the Beuron school participated, and the partner of Verkade in his works in the Döbling, Karmeliterkirche.

As author of a German translation of Cennino Cennini, Jan Verkade must have been known also in Hungary, whereCennini had a strong influence on art development for several decades, between1900 and 1940, first with the Gödöllő colony funded by Aladár Körösfői-Kriesch (1863-1920) before World War I, second with the Cennini Society funded by Sándor Nagy (1869-1950) in the after war years and finally with the “Spiritual artists” by Jenõ Remsey (1885-1980) and Aurél Náray (1883 ‑ 1948) in the 1930s. However there is no proof of direct contacts.

Cennino as original reference for different streams of spiritualism

We started our journey in spiritual art with Cennino Cennini and will finish it with him. Almost all pages above have treated ‑ in one way or another about ‑ the relations between art and religion. And indeed, there is evidence that the figure of Cennino Cennini ‑ while being a layman ‑ has been interpreted as the one of a mystical painter, who attracted the attention of that part of the art circles which was closer to the Catholic Church. It should be mentioned, however, that Cennino turned to be a cultural reference points on art for different streams of religious thinkers. The last section of this note tries to deepen this point, with particular reference to France (and considering Verkade in this respect as a ‘French’ author, as his interest for Cennino derived from Maurice Denis).

When considering the interest for Cennino Cennini in the French catholic word, different phases should be considered.

After the French restoration and during the Empire of Napoleon III, Catholicism had been re-established as the leading religion of the country, which considered itself the „eldest daughter of the Church“. Italians will remember that French troops defeated Mazzini’s and Garibaldi’s attempts to establish the Roman Republic in 1849 and prevented the occupation of Rome by the Italian troops until they were withdraw in 1870. This is the time of the revival of religious frescos in the countries’ churches, characterised by the didactic, naturalist and sentimental models of the Church of St. Sulpice in Paris. It is also the time of the time of the first translation of Cennino Cennini by Victor Mottez in 1858, who was one of the main representatives of the religious art in those decades. Mottez had been long time in Britain, where he had seen Pre-Raphaelite art, and was part of the Pre-Raphaelite school of Lyon. As already mentioned, he had been disciple of the Nazarene Johann Friedrich Overbeck and had worked together with Peter Cornelius.

The events in 1870-1871 modified profoundly the framework in which Catholicism developed in France. The Comune of Paris exposed it to the nightmare of a new anti-religious revolution in the country.  To render thanks to God about the failure of that attempt, authorities decide to build-up, on the Montmartre hill, the Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Paris, to be sure it would be visible from any angle of the town. Intentionally, the style of the basilica is inspired to old Byzantine features.

The law on the separation between State and Church of 1905 (principle of laicité) marked the political marginalisation of Catholicism, despite of the reaction of the Vatican. This is the world in which Victor Mottez publishes the second translation of Cennino Cennini in 1911, under the impulse of Maurice Denis and with the important participation of Auguste Renoir and other scholars, as mentioned above.

Auguste Renoir was certainly not a progressive catholic. In his letter to Henri Mottez (and the other draft texts he prepared for the preface to Cennino Cennini’s text) expressed a strong anti-modern feeling, which has been recalled at the beginning of this note. Robert L. Herbert has studied Renoir’s conservatism, finding out ‑ in one section of his book entitled “Renoir and Cennino Cennini in 1910” that already in the 1880s he had expressed himself against labour movements, stating that “the conception of divinity among superior peoples has always implied ideas of order, hierarchy and tradition”. This was in line with the political and religious conservatism of the journal “L’Occident”, of which Maurice Denis was the art critic. Herbert explains that L’Occident had been part of the rightist response to the Dreyfus case. Moreover, Denis was member, at that time of the right movement Action Française (which the Vatican condemned later on in the 1920s because of its strong anti-semitic and anti-democratic motives). Besides Denis, Herbert finds out that two scholars assisted Renoir in the preparation of his texts on Cennino: the art critic Georges Rivière (1855-1943), author of a biography of Renoir, entitled “Renoir and his friends”, and the literature critic Adrien Mithouard (1864-1919). Both of them are described not only as passionate defenders of catholic religion, but also as anti-Semite and partisans against Dreyfus. The same could be said of Camille Mauclair, whom we already met above (with his very strong comments against Cennino’s quality, when he saw it in the hands of Renoir) and ended up to be one of the supporters in the cultural field of the Vichy regime, with his 1944 book on “The crisis of modern art”.


Auguste Renoir, Portrait of Georges Rivière (1880)


Camille Mauclair, La crise de l’Art moderne, 1944

But Cennino Cennini was seen as an ancient mentor of pure art also by literature critic Elémir Bourges (1852 –1925), which he had set-up ‑ together with the painter Armand Point (1860–1932)- a symbolist art circle in Marlotte, near Fointenbleau, denominated Haute Claire. Bourges, very close to the philosopher Sorel, introduced Cennino’s treatise to the group. The extremely conservative journal “L’Indépendance”, founded by Georges Sorel (a sort of reactionary manifest for political, social and aesthetic traditionalism), spreaded the work of the group, which had a strong nationalist and ultimately filo-fascist orientation (see Antliff).


Armand Point (1860-1932), The joy of things (1884)

In conclusion, it would seem that Cennino Cennini has been seen as a sort of ‘original myth’ of conservative and back-wards looking Catholicism. The figure of Jan Verkade serves to balance these considerations.  Jan Verkade’s aesthetic experiences were always oriented to the attempt of a spiritual synthesis between modernity and classicism. He confronted himself with a spirit of openness with some streams of modern art, wishing to contribute to a renewal of sacred art. He did it by crossing cultures, linking France and Germany, the Netherlands and Italy, showing a great curiosity for artists from different countries. All in all, Jan Verkade is a symbol of a progressive, and of a forward looking aspiration to spiritualism. He might have perhaps rejected that term, but he was integral part of modernity.

Clearly, his ambition to make headway towards spiritual painting has been one of the missions of his life. He did it in a tremendously difficult time, ahead and after World War I, in a time of social and political unrest. He passed away in 1946, at 78. For him ‑ who had hoped to contribute to a new direction of art, oriented to combining terrene beauty and celestial sublimation, art of the past and art of the future in a sign of eternal art servicing the Supreme  ‑ it must have been  terrible to experience the horrible things which happened during the last decades of his life and to find out ‑ at the very end ‑ that the human kind had been able to produce Auschwitz. At the age of 23 he had joined a group of painters who called themselves ‑ using a Hebrew term ‑ the Nabis (the prophets): a crucial word, as Hebraism is ‑ as notorious ‑ the religion of the prophets. At the end of his life he had to discover the term shoah.

This was ‑ at the very end ‑ the reason why the Beuronese experiment and all attempts to establish a spiritual art on a religious basis have remained an isolated episode in art history. They were all defeated by history. World War I broke the contacts between Verkade, Sérusier and Denis, the inseparable trio with a common view on art and religion. The years afterwards were marked by a catastrophic sequence of mistakes ‑ all over Europe ‑ which led to World War II. Ultimately, the world was not ready to receive Jan Verkade’s message. And his Cennino Cennini’s translation ‑ terminated in the mid of a war which was termed for the first time as affecting the entire World, only a few hundred kilometres from the trenches ‑ remained a simple contribution to art technique, instead of a step towards reaching a new spiritual art.


Antliff, Mark ‑ Avant-Garde Fascism: The Mobilization of Myth, Art, and Culture in France, 1909–1939, Duke University Press, 2007 (See: http://books.google.de/books?hl=it&id=ADTdniFtnuwC&q=cennino+cennini#v=onepage&q=cennino%20cennini&f=false)

Apa Mariano ‑ Arte e perfezione. La scuola d’arte di Beuron da Lenz a Verkade, da Prezzolini a Montini, Editore Studium, 2011 – owned by this library

Apa, Mariano ‑ Paolo VI e la spiritualità nell’arte, 2003 (4), pp. 497 ‑ 514

Apa, Mariano ‑ Verkade e l’arte di Beuron tra Papini e Prezzolini, in Studium, 1999 (5), pp. 761-773

Billiter, Felix ‑ Hugo Troendle in Auseinandersetzung mit Jan Verkade und Paul Sérusier, in : Hefte des Troendle-Archivs, Volume 1, 2014

Boyle Jan, Turner, Caroline ‑ Hollandse volgeling van Gauguin, Rijksmuseum Vincent Van Gogh, 1989

Brooke, Peter ‑ Albert Gleizes: For and Against the Twentieth Century, Yale University Press, 2011 (See:http://books.google.de/books?hl=it&id=QG9wNyIlEAgC&q=beuron#v=snippet&q=beuron&f=false)

Cennini, Cennino ‑ Le livre de l’art ou Traité de la peinture, Nouvelle édition par Henry Mottez,  augmentée de 17 chapitres nouvellement traduits, précédée d’une lettre d’Auguste Renoir, et d’une préface inédite du traducteur, suivie de notes et d’éclaircissements sur la fresque, par Victor Mottez, Paris, Bibliothèque de L’Occident, 1911 – owned by this library

Denis, Maurice ‑ Théories 1890-1910. Du Symbolisme et du Gaugain vers un nouvel ordre classique, 1912 (See :https://archive.org/details/thories189019100deniuoft)

Denis, Maurice ‑ Nouvelles théories sur l’art moderne [et] l’art sacré, 1914-1921, L. Rouart et J. Watelin Éditeurs, Paris, 1922 (See : https://archive.org/details/nouvellesthori00deni)

Des Cennino Cennini Handbüchlein der Kunst ‑ neuübersetzt und herausgegeben von P. Willibrord Verkade O.S.B., Mit glied der Beuroner Kunstschule, Strassburg, J. H. Ed. Heitz (Heitz & Mündel), 1916, pp. 183 – owned by this library

d’Ayala Valva, Margherita ‑ Gli «scopi pratici moderni» del Libro dell’arte di Cennino Cennini: le edizioni primonovecentesche di Herringham, Renoir, Simi e Verkade, in «Paragone / Arte», a. LVI, terza serie, n. 64 (669), novembre 2005, pp. 71-91 (See: (See:https://www.academia.edu/2969766/Gli_scopi_pratici_moderni_del_Libro_dellarte_di_Cennino_Cennini_le_edizioni_primonovecentesche_di_Herringham_Renoir_Simi_e_Verkade_in_Paragone_Arte_a._LVI_terza_serie_n._64_669_novembre_2005_pp._71-91)

Fabre, Able ‑ Pages d’art chrétien: études d’architecture, de peinture, de sculpture et d’iconographie, Bonne Presse, Paris, 1910 (See : https://archive.org/details/pagesdartchrti00fabr)

Feiler, Bernd ‑ Der Blaue Reiter und der Erzbischof, Religiöse Tendenzen, christlicher Glaube und kirchliches Bekenntnis in der Malerei Münchens von 1911 bis 1925, Münich, 2002 (See: http://edoc.ub.uni-muenchen.de/3968/1/Feiler_Bernd.pdf)

Fischer, Friedhelm ‑ Zur Symbolik des Spirituellen und der Transzendenz in der modernen Malerei, In: Zeichen des Glaubens, Geist der Avantgarde. Religiöse Tendenzen in der Kunst des 20. Jahrhunderts, Stuttgart 1980, S. 44-58

Gauguin, Paul ‑ L’esprit moderne et le Catholicisme, 1897 (manuscript)

Grivel, Delphine, Maurice Denis et la musique, Symétrie, 2011

Herbert, Robert L. ‑ Nature’s Workshop. Renoir’s Writings on the Decorative Arts, New Haven, Yale University Press, 2000

Kandinsky, Wassily ‑ On the spiritual in art, New York, Guggenheim Museum, 1946 (See: https://archive.org/stream/onspiritualinart00kand#page/n5/mode/2up)

Kehrbaum, Annegret ‑ Die Nabis und die Beuroner Kunst, Jan/Willbrord owned by this library

Kreitmaier, Josef ‑ Beuroner Kunst: Eine Ausdrucksform der Christlichen Mystik, Freiburg, Herder. 1921 (see:https://archive.org/stream/beuronerkunstein00kreiuoft#page/1/mode/2up)

Krins, Hubert ‑ Beuroner Kunst in der Wiener Secession, 1905-2005 : Katalog zur Ausstellung in der Erzabtei Beuron, 2005

Krins, Hubert -Gnadenkapelle und Mauruskapelle in Beuron, Beuron, 2004

Krins, Hubert ‑ Spiritualität in der Beuroner Kunst ‑ in Hanna-Barbara Gerl-Falkovitz (editor): Sakralität und Moderne, Dorfen, Hawel Verlag, 2010

Janssens, Laurent ‑ L’arte della scuola benedettina di Beuron, Milano, Società Amici dell’Arte Cristiana [1913]

Jawlensky, Alexej von ‑ Il volto e il colore. Aforismi, lettere, memorie, edited by Maria Passato, Guerini e associati editore, 1995 – owned by this library

Laurent, Stéphane –  Armand Point : un art décoratif symboliste, in: Revue de l’Art, 1997, Issue   116, pp. 89-94 (See :http://www.persee.fr/web/revues/home/prescript/article/rvart_0035-1326_1997_num_116_1_348331)

Lenz, Desiderius ‑ The Aesthetics of Beuron and other writings, translated from the German by John Minihane and John Connolly. Introduction by Hubert Krins. Afterword and notes by Peter Brooke, London, Francis Boutle Publishers, 2002 –owned by this library

Lipsey, Roger ‑ The spiritual in twentieth-century art, New York, Dover Publications, 2004. (See:http://books.google.de/books?id=s-2Lc-g-c_sC&pg=PA509&lpg=PA509&dq=spiritual+art+1910&source=bl&ots=bdgL1CPAPk&sig=_yNIjU1-s1VSiIQrICZ60IOwn3s&hl=it&sa=X&ei=TeNBU6XwNJSShQfkyYGoCg&ved=0CJkBEOgBMA4#v=onepage&q&f=false)

Marie, Aristide ‑ Armand Point et le phalanstère d’Hauteclaire, in Apophtegme (See :http://www.apophtegme.com/ALBUM/marie-point)

Mauclair, Camille ‑ La crise de l’art moderne, Paris, C.E.A., 1944

Mauclair, Camille ‑ Servitude et grandeur littéraires: Souvenirs d’arts et de lettres de 1890 à 1900.–Le symbolisme; les théâtres d’avantgarde; peintres, musiciens.–L’anarchisme et le Dreyfusisme.–L’arrivisme, Paris, Ollendorff, 1922 (See :https://archive.org/details/servitudeetgrand00maucuoft)

Mercier,  Georges ‑ L’art abstrait dans l’art sacré: la tendance non-figurative dans l’art sacré chrétien contemporain, E. de Boccard, 1964

Montini, Giovanni Battista (Paul VI) ‑ L’arte di Beuron, «Studium» 25 (1929) 33-37 (published in Istituto Paolo VI, Notiziario, No. 16, May 1988, pp .7-12) – owned by this library

Oost, Katharina ‑ Edith Stein und Beuron, in Edith Stein Jahrbuch 2006 (See: http://www.ocd-karmel.net/Spirit/Jahrbuch_2006.pdf)

Prezzolini, Giuseppe ‑ La teoria e l’arte di Beuron, Siena, L. Lazzeri, 1908

Prezzolini, Giuseppe ‑ La teoria e l’arte di Beuron, in Vita d’arte ‑ Rivista mensile illustrata d’arte antica e moderna, April 1908, p. 215 and August 1908, p.40 (See: http://iccu01e.caspur.it/ms/internetCulturale.php?id=oai%3Aemeroteca.braidense.it%3A38%3AMI0185%3AEVA_0ATA_A349721&teca=Emeroteca+braidense for April 1908 and http://emeroteca.braidense.it/eva/sfoglia_articolo.php?IDTestata=422&CodScheda=0ATA&PageRec=tutti&PageSel=1&CodVolume=2906&CodFascicolo=19707&CodArticolo=350303 for August 1908)

Radin,  Giulia ‑ Il carteggio Gino Severini ‑ Jacques Maritain (1923 ‑ 1966), Museo di arte moderna e contemporanea di Trento e Rovereto, 2011

Renoir, Auguste ‑ Renoir contre son temps, Morceaux choisis des écrits d’Auguste Renoir, préface de Philip Nord, Paris, Edition Le Manuscript, 2009 – owned by this library

Rivière, Georges ‑ Renoir et ses amis, Paris, Floury, 1921 (See :https://archive.org/stream/abu6175.0001.001.umich.edu#page/n7/mode/2up)

Russell T. Clement, Annick Houzé, Christiane Erbolato-Ramsey ‑ A Sourcebook of Gauguin’s Symbolist Followers: Les Nabis, Pont-Aven, Rose + Croix, Greenwood Publishing Group, 2004

Sérusier, Paul ‑  ABC de la peinture : Suivi d’une Correspondance inédite recueillie par Mme P. Sérusier et annotée de Paul Sérusier, Henriette Boutaric et Marguerite Paul Sérusier (1950) – owned by this library

Severini , Gino ‑ From Cubism to Classicism;  Gleizes,  Albert ‑ Painting and Its Laws, translated by Peter Brooke, Francis Boutle, 2001

Stewart, Leonard, H.- L’esprit moderne et le Catholicisme. An unpublished manuscript by Paul Gauguin, in: Bulletin of the City Art Museum of St. Louis, Vol. 34, No. 3 (SUMMER, 1949), pp. 41-52 (See: http://www.jstor.org/stable/40715169

Verkade, Willibrord ‑ Der Antrieb ins Vollkommene, Freiburg im Breisgau, Herder & Co. GmbH Verlagsbuchhandlung, 1931, pp. 388 – owned by this library

Verkade, Willibrord ‑ Die Unruhe zu Gott, Freiburg im Breisgau, Herder & Co. GmbH Verlagsbuchhandlung, 1920, pp. 252 –owned by this library

Verkade, Willibrord ‑ Spuren des Daseins, Mainz, Matthias-Grünewald-Verlag, 1938 – owned by this library

Vismara, Silvio M ‑ La nuova arte di Beuron, Roma, Santa Maria Nuova, 1913

Von Bonsdorff, Anna-Maria ‑ Colour Ascetism and Synthetist Colour. Colour Concepts in turn-of-the-20th-century Finnish and European art, Helsinki, 2002 (See: https://helda.helsinki.fi/bitstream/handle/10138/33523/Colouras.pdf?sequence=1)

Zappia, Caterina ‑ Maurice Denis e l’Italia, Università degli studi di Perugia, 2001