“There is no such thing as a religious free space!” Richard van Dülmen’s statement at the beginning of the third volume of his book “Kultur und Alltag in der Frühen Neuzeit” is decisive for the answer to the general question of this work, namely “How did the allegories of the four continents come into the village church?” Originating in the courtly world of the 16th century, the iconography had its peak on the walls and ceilings of Southern German village churches around the middle of the 18th century. A quantitative survey discovered 310 allegories of the four continents in 273 different places in the Southern German region. Every second allegory can be found as part of the visual program of a village church. A remarkable density is encountered in the so-called Erdteilallegoriengürtel covering the area of Upper Swabia, Bavarian Swabia, and Upper and Lower Bavaria. The relevant theoretical model used was the one on cultural exchange processes.
During the late Renaissance – around 1570 – humanists developed a new “shorthand” way of representing the world at a single glance: personifications of the four continents Europe, Asia, Africa and America. While the continent allegory as an iconic type had already been invented in antiquity, humanists and their artists adapted the concept by creating the four-continent scheme and standardized the attributes characterizing the continents. During the next 230 years until ca. 1800, this iconic scheme became a huge success story. All known media were employed to bring the four continent allegories into the public and into people’s homes. Within this prolonged history of personifications of the continents, the peak was reached in the Late Baroque, and especially the 18th century. As a pictorial language they were interwoven with texts, dogmas, narratives and stereotypes. Thus the project team find himself asking: What did continent allegories actually mean to people living in the Baroque age?
Recently, several thousand photos of church interiors from Southern Germany have been uploaded into the Warburg Institute Iconographic Database (http://iconographic.warburg.sas.ac.uk), where they can be freely downloaded. Some 20,000 more images are waiting to be added. It is planned to link this collection with the Corpus der Barocken Deckenmalerei.
Following the principles of the Warburg Institute Photographic Collection, the metadata focusses on iconography. We describe subject-matter in a hierarchical system that allows us to place related subject-matters next to each other. In contrast to ICONCLASS, our system is flexible so that we can easily create new categories to describe innovative iconographies, which are so common in the Baroque. We include material in all media and from all countries (with a focus on Europe from Classical Greece to about 1800), so allowing users to note connections across time, space and materials. An entry on a painting in the crossing of Fürstenfeld Abbey may give an idea of our approach:
In addition to presenting our own photographs (up to now, only the sections on Mythology and Astrology of our Photo Collection have been systematically digitized), we also collaborate with other projects to make digitized material findable through iconographic classification. We have therefore evolved from being a digital photo collection towards a global iconographic research portal. A good example are our entries on some illuminated manuscripts from the Munich Staatsbibliothek, such as the Salzburg Missal.
Because European mural paintings often contain rich and complex iconographies and are comparatively little known, we would be very interested in collaborating with projects that are engaged in cataloguing them.
Radka Miltová, Mezi zalíbením a zavržením. Recepce Ovidiových Metamorfóz v barokním umění v Čechách a na Moravě [Between Delight and Reprobation. Reception of Ovids’ Metamorphoses in Baroque Art in Bohemia and Moravia], Brno 2009