Narrativity and Historicism in National Socialist Art

  • Michael Ranta (Autor/in)


In this paper, I intend to outline and discuss some aspects of pictorial historical narration, more specifically with regard to National Socialist art and its implicit rendering of temporal and historical processes. Certainly in many artworks from that period a future orientation, towards an ideal political, social and ethnic (or racial) state of affairs, seems to have been prevalent, partially by rendering present states or actions pointing to or enhancing its fulfilment. Still, the realization of this utopian state is frequently supposed to receive its legitimacy by referring to an assumed, more or less constructed historical past, e.g. Antiquity or the Middle Ages. Hence past, present and future become to some extent fused, though revealing a linear image of time considered to be unidirectional and irreversible. Influenced by e.g. the works of Roger Griffin, I shall suggest that fascism, of which National Socialism can be seen as a subcategory, might be circumscribed as some kind of ‘palingenetic populist ultra-nationalism’. Officially sanctioned art produced during the Third Reich seems, as I will attempt to show in concluding this paper, to be in line with the idea of palingenetic populist ultra-nationalism. Although I have attempted to treat and examine these topics as value neutral and ‘clinical’ as possible (which probably is required by a serious academic paper), this should by no means be interpreted as an (implicit) attempt to legitimize National Socialist ideology. My aim is certainly not to belittle or palliate the seriousness of the matter, nor indeed the actual atrocities committed by the Nazi regime and its followers. Neither should the quite repugnant and despicable implications of National Socialist ideology in its cultural manifestations, such as in works of art, be underestimated. Thus I, as the author, clearly wish to distance myself from any of the standpoints put forward by various representatives of National Socialist thinking, as here outlined.