Modernity and Religion Session 3: Religious Art and Political Change

Session 3 of our workshop Modernity and Religion in Central European Art and Architecture will take place at

18.00 CET on 18 March 2021

on Zoom, featuring papers by

Marcus van der Meulen (RWTH Aachen University)


Vanessa Parent (Montreal; Bibliotheca Hertziana, Rome).

The event is free to attend, but you need to register. Click here for the registration form. See the full workshop schedule here.

Watch Marcus van der Meulen’s lecture on our Youtube channel:


Marcus van der Meulen (RWTH Aachen University)

Reaction and Renewal: Religious Buildings and National Resurrections in the Second Polish Republic

In November 1918, the Second Polish Republic was established from parts of the former Lithuanian Polish Commonwealth, partitioned its neighbors. The Commonwealth had been a multi-ethnic and multi-faith state. The part occupied by Russia had experienced an increasingly aggressive attitude towards Catholicism, which was also noticeable in the architectural landscape. Already during the First World War, Russians left the Russian kingdom of Poland, leaving several Orthodox churches vacant. Some of these were reused for other denominations. This typically involved a redesign of both the interior and the exterior. The alien Russo-Byzantine style was reduced and replaced by a vernacular or more modernist forms.

The debate about Polishness in architecture had already begun during the First World War. The partition of Poland between Prussia, Russia and the Habsburg Empire had resulted in a variety of architectural styles, especially for public buildings. A need to reunite the nation was felt, and the reconstruction of public buildings was seen as a tool to achieve this. A quest for a style that expressed Polishness eventually resulted in the 1920s with the ‘Manor House Style’, a provincial vernacular from the 17th and 18th centuries, as a national style. Many public buildings were built in this style and many more reconstructed. Especially in the southeastern parts, the former Habsburg kingdom of Galicia, many churches were either demolished or redesigned in this style.

However, modernism also became a style used for the construction and reconstruction of Catholic churches, eventually becoming the champion of sacred architecture in the Second Polish Republic. Examples can be found in the east of the country. An interesting example is the Temple of Divine Providence in L’viv,  in modern-day Ukraine. Designed by Bohdan Pniewski in 1938, the building’s combination of traditional church typology and modern forms and building materials  is reminiscent of the Resurrection Basilica (1934–1940) in Kaunas, the capital of independent Lithuania during the Interbellum.

Marcus van der Meulen is a PhD candidate at RWTH Aachen University, Faculty of Architecture, and has been an advisor and  committee member of FRH (Future for Religious Heritage) since 2015. Marcus studied Architecture at Leuven University,  Monument Preservation at the Institute for Conservation and Restoration in Ghent and took courses in Architectural History at Cambridge University. The focus of  his research at RWTH Aachen University is architecture, religion and identity. In Spring 2021 Marcus will be a fellow at the Niemiecki Instytut Historyczny in Warsaw, related to his research project Religious Monuments and the Postwar Rebuilding of Warsaw, Construction of a State Identity? Marcus presented about the topic of religion and architecture at several conferences, including Mapping Modernist Cities within the context of CIAM’s Athens Charter, (Nova Gorica 2020),  Denkmalflege, Heimat, Identität, (Dresden 2019), and  State (re)construction and Art in central and eastern Europe 1918–2018, (Warsaw 2018). His publications include Religious Buildings and the Postwar Construction of a Socialist Utopia in the GDR (Ljubljana 2020), Rebuilding Religious Buildings in Warsaw, Building a Sense of Belonging and Identity (Dresden 2020).


Vanessa Parent (Montreal; Bibliotheca Hertziana, Rome)

Expressionist Eschatologies: Envisioning Redemption in the work of Albin Egger-Lienz

In the years following World War I, Tirolean artist Albin Egger-Lienz was commissioned to paint commemorative murals for the war memorial chapel in Lienz, Austria. The four murals function as an allegorical cycle, demanding the contemplation of eschatological issues in the aftermath of global war. Formally, the frescos move from neo-classical figuration, in line with Egger-Lienz’ earlier work, to greater expressionism with his modernist rendering of the resurrected Christ in Der Auferstandene, ultimately leading to a papal interdict banning the performance of religious ceremonies within the chapel until its reconsecration in the late 1980s. Beyond the memorial frescoes, this paper will consider contemporaneous works that offer, in form and content, an amalgam of the traditional and the modern, the sacred and the everyday, by placing the figure of Christ within Tirolean domestic spaces. This unexpected juxtaposition is heightened by the artist’s use of an expressionistic and increasingly abstract visual language through the flattening of pictorial space, crowded compositions, and muted tones.

Attending to the regional and cultural specificity of the works, this paper examines the greater implications of this formal shift in Egger-Lienz’ work, signalling a condition of ontological crisis in the face of complex social, cultural and political change. The intention is to contribute to a more nuanced view of twentieth-century Western modernism, whereby the persistence of myth and the need for transcendant meaning appear as an equally vocal note in the development of aesthetic modernity, shifting the focus away from a modernist trajectory argued to be dominated by concerns regarding the internal logic of the medium. It is my hope that the study of these under-examined works, the visual language employed and the context of their creation in Catholic interwar Austria will also offer additional insight into the conditions of existential angst that accompanied the further politicization of a mythologized cultural self-understanding during the interwar period, one whose devastating consequences arguably contributed to these works’ lack of critical attention within art historical discourse.

Vanessa Parent is currently a Sessional Instructor in the Visual Arts and Art History departments at the University of Ottawa (Ottawa, CA) and Concordia University (Montreal, CA), and has held a postdoctoral fellowship at the Bibliotheca Hertziana, Max Planck Institute for Art History, Rome. Vanessa specialises in modern and contemporary art, focusing on the body, ritual, labor and gender in painting and performance. Vanessa’s research examines the interrelation of corporeality, collective trauma and historical recursion, through the examination of aesthetic responses to conditions of exploitation, oppression, and/or crisis, and this, in a manner that goes beyond traditional art historical periodization. Current research projects include post-68 feminist theoretical perspectives and aesthetic strategies of ‘deculturation’ in Italy and Austria and their recuperation by artists working in the present, as well as a reexamination of her doctoral thesis on Vienna Actionism in the longue-durée of 1848. Vanessa also has a subspecialty in art and visual culture of the late Middle-Ages, focusing specifically on the body, suffering and devotional practices. Her work has be pubished in IKON Journal of Iconographic Studies, Blind Field: A Journal of Cultural Inquiry, and exhibition reviews in Canadian Art online and C magazine.


This workshop is part of a project that has received funding from the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme (grant agreement No 786314).

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