Schnorr's Bible is genuinely a Bible in pictures, not an illustrated Bible: the images substitute, at least to a large extent, the text itself. Consequently, Schnorr's inventions are true history paintings: plot-driven, they present human nature in action, human nature made visible through gesture and pantomime. Psychology is secondary; in this divine saga of heroism and sacrifice, sin and damnation, only the deed matters.

Two plates from Schnorr's Bible in Pictures, both 6 x 7 inches. Left: The Annunciation. Right: Christ at the Sea of Galilee. Die Bibel in Bildern. London: Norgate and Williams, 1856; Leipzig: Georg Wigands, 1860. [Click on images to enlarge them.]

As history painting, Schnorr's conception is paradigmatically academic In the manner of the Renaissance historia, the Bible in Pictures presents man as an ideal type, his body bound neither by temporal nor corporeal limitations. The heroes of this biblical world are larger than life, full of otherworldly power and strength, often handsome and never compromised by nature. History is painted in broad, generalized outlines, an idealized space located in a time past yet universal, devoid of documentary precision, unpolluted by the grittiness of real events and actual settings. The result is of stunning visual immediacy.

Schnorr's biblical pictures catch the eye even from the distance. Their striking effect relies on an economy of line, masterful manipulation of light and shade and rigorous restriction to the scene's essentials that communicates content with greatest ease. Clarity is the highest principle of Schnorr's compositions. Each element, from the central hero to the smallest detail, is therefore defined in bold, purposefully placed strokes, which stand out forcefully against the whiteness of the sheet. . . . The desire for a clear, fully embodied narrative also guides the use of language. The original version of 1860 reduced textual interventions to brief captions made up of biblical verses, while the images themselves carry forth the narrative. In this spirit, the introductory commentaries to the individual illustrations by the Swabian theologian Heinrich Merz forego lengthy exegetical explications.. . .

The literalness of Schnorr's biblical pictures represents a stark contrast to the typological argumentation advanced by Overbeck's Sacraments. Both projects are emphatically Nazarene; but they are at opposite ends of the spectrum of Nazarene pictorial thinking and iconographical strategies. On one side stands the Seven Sacraments: a complicated rebus, allegorical and atemporal in nature, which reduces the Old Testament scenes to subservient prefigurations of their New Testament fulfillments. Here, meaning is constructed through an intricate interaction of text and image, which in turn is structured as much by rupture as by analogy. On the other is the Bible in Pictures: a straightforward narrative, historical and chronological in nature, which presents the Old Testament as a series of self-sufficient events worthy to be told for their own sake. Overt references to typological exegesis are largely avoided and instead a literal understanding of text and image is advanced. [206-07]

Related material


Grewe, Cordula. Painting the Sacred in the Age of Romanticism. Farnham, Surrey: Ashgate Publishing, 2009.

Created 10 June 2016