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Images of Faith: Expressionism, Catholic Folk Art, and the Industrial Revolution.

One needs to look beyond its title to discover that this book is a history of glasspainting in a small region of Upper Bavaria. According to Helena Lepovitz, although the technique of painting on glass had emerged in the middle ages, glass painting as a recorded profession first appeared at the end of the seventeenth century in Augsburg; and by the mid-eighteenth century, Augsburg glasspainting had developed as an alternative to tinted graphic reproductions, until then the only choice for customers who, unlike wealthier patrons of the arts, could not afford to purchase original oil paintings. The products of the Augsburg glass painters proved popular, and were soon marketed on a large scale throughout Europe and the colonies. Lepovitz describes the rapid spread of glasspainting from Augsburg to the surrounding rural areas, where, drawing on a reserve of labour, it quickly became an important secondary source of employment and income. In this remote area of central Europe, glasspainting, apart from a setback during the Napoleonic wars, became a cottage industry on a scale sufficient to supply a wide market with glowing and attractive images, both secular and religious. In the late nineteenth century, however, a decline set in due to the advent of chromolithography, an urban-based industrial process that made it possible to produce high-quality decorative images on a commercial scale at a lower price. Thereafter, glasspainting only survived in places where it could market itself to the tourist trade as folk art.

Lepovitz acknowledges that "a substantial trade in glasspaintings also existed in areas of Lower Bavaria and Bohemia . . . and there were glasspainters active in the Black Forest, Switzerland, the Tyrol, and other areas of central Europe as well" (p. 11). The explanation for her decision to limit her study to Upper Bavaria seems to be her interest in the "Blue Rider" painters and future expressionists, Wassily Kandinsky and Gabriele Munter. These artists "discovered" glasspainting when on holiday in the Alpine village of Murnau in the years before World War I. Fascinated by the technical qualities of what they took to be "folk art," they not only tried their hand at glasspainting, but also sought to incorporate certain features characteristic of this craft into their other work. Lepovitz has used the Murnau experience of the Blue Rider group to frame her story. She begins by describing their discovery of glasspainting and finishes by ascribing the revival of the craft and its successful adaptation to the twentieth-century tourist trade in part to the "intellectual trend begun by the Blue Rider artists" that values glasspaintings based on conventional motifs as "relics of a folk art tradition" or, alternatively regards the traditional medium of glass as a means to confer a quality of "folksiness" on non-traditional motifs. She also sees the Blue Rider artists "as a fitting symbol for the transformation of rural Bavaria during the Industrial Revolution, for like the craftsmen they so admired, they too rooted their 'modern' style firmly in the fertile soil of tradition" (p. 155).

The first part of Images of Faith, which accounts for eighty-nine of the book's 155 pages of text, deals with "The Glasspainters and the Industrializing Process." Based on original research, it examines the economic and social factors that made it possible for this rural preindustrial craft to convert to mass production and to succeed commercially from the eighteenth century to the twentieth. Only in the shorter second part does the author go on to discuss the subject matter of those glasspaintings. Lepovitz here seeks to explain why religious pictures (whether glasspaintings or prints) proved especially popular among Catholic consumers, and to discuss the changing role of these "images of faith" in a time of rapid cultural and social change.

The book, which is ingeniously conceived and carefully crafted, contains twenty black and white illustrations, a colour frontispiece, ten tables, a map of trade routes open to glasspainting centres, extensive notes, and a bibliography. Undoubtedly, specialists who share the author's particular interest will wish to consult it. Because of its limited scope, however, it is unlikely that many historians will want to purchase a copy.
COPYRIGHT 1992 Canadian Journal of History
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Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Campbell, Joan
Publication:Canadian Journal of History
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Dec 1, 1992
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