Displaying “German Greatness” in Nazi Germany: the Exhibition Deutsche Größe (1940-1942) and its Legacy

Displaying “German Greatness” in Nazi Germany: the Exhibition Deutsche Größe (1940-1942) and its Legacy
20 Nov 2017, 18:00 to 20 Nov 2017, 20:00
IHR Pollard Seminar Room, N301, Third Floor, IHR, Senate House, Malet Street, London WC1E 7HU

William J. Diebold , Reed College

Although it is not well known to scholars, the cultural-historical exhibition Deutsche Größe (“German Greatness” or “Grandeur”) was probably the most important museum display of the Nazi era. The show’s subject was the history of Germany from the early Middle Ages until the assumption of power by Adolf Hitler. Deutsche Größe was supported at the highest levels of the Nazi Party and its presentation of history was frankly ideological, but the show expressed that ideology through a series of ambitious and innovative display techniques. One of these was the use of an elaborate interior architecture for each of the show's fifteen chronologically-arranged galleries, an architecture which was intended to give the feeling of the period on display in each gallery. Even more remarkable from the museological perspective was the exhibition's exclusive use of facsimiles (most of them hand made) for the exhibition of its close to 2000 objects.

This paper presents Deutsche Größe and describes how it came about and how it worked to shape an understanding of history that would serve Nazi goals. Special attention is paid to Deutsche Größe as a piece of museology and to the display of the art and culture of the high Middle Ages, an area of history that was especially fraught and problematic for the National Socialists because it came from the "First" Reich that they saw revived in their "Third" Reich. The paper ends with a consideration of the legacy of Deutsche Größe in two later exhibitions, one which took place in Cold War West Germany and the other in the German Federal Republic after unification.

William J. Diebold, Jane Neuberger Goodsell Professor of Art History and Humanities, Reed College, Portland, Oregon USA wdiebold@reed.edu

Professor Diebold was awarded his PhD in 1989, at Johns Hopkins University. Thesis (with honors): “The Artistic Patronage of Charles the Bald.” Since September, 1987, he has been a member of the Art History and Humanities Faculty at Reed College, Portland, Oregon. He has been a member of the Editorial Board of Studies in Iconography since 2015. Following the award of a grant, in Spring 2018, he will be a member of the School of Historical Studies, at the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton. His many publications include:

“’Brother, What do you think of this idol?’ Early Medieval Travelers Encounter ‘Idols.’” Ready for submission

“’Not pictures but writing was sent for the understanding of our faith:’ Word and Image in the Soissons Gospels.” Ready for submission

"Baby or Bathwater? Josef Strzygowski’s 'Ruins of Tombs of the Latin Kings on the Haram in Jerusalem' (1936) and its Reception." Orient oder Rom? Prehistory, history and reception of a historiographical myth (1880–1930), eds. I. Foletti and F. Lovino. Under review.

"The Magdeburg Rider on Display in Modern Germany." The Long Lives of Medieval Art and Architecture, eds. J. Feltman and S. Thompson. (London: Routledge; forthcoming)

“‘A living source of our civilization’. The Exhibition Deutsche Groesse/Grandeur de l’Allemagne/Duitsche Grootheid in Brussels, 1942.” Arts of Display/Het vertoon van de kunst, eds. H. Perry Chapman et al. (Leiden: Brill, 2015) ( = Netherlands Yearbook for History of Art/Nederlands Kunsthistorisch Jaarboek 65 [2015]), 292-319.


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