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THE WIEDMANN BIBLE from an art-historical point of view

Updated: Apr 26, 2023

An article by art historian Bettina Sitter on the special exhibition in the Öhringer Weygang Museum.

»› THE WIEDMANN BIBLE ‹. The longest painted Bible in the world. The masterpiece of the Öhringer Willy Wiedmann « Introduction to the special exhibition in the Weygang Museum Öhringen November 27, 2016 - February 5, 2017 The exhibition is dedicated to a subject that is as exciting as it is "monumental": the illustration of the Bible by the artist Willy Wiedmann. I. A look at the history of art shows that in the early days of Christianity the biblical texts were adorned with pictures.1 The famous "Viennese Genesis" 2 was written and painted on precious purple parchment. It probably originated in the area of ​​Syria / Palestine and is one of the biblical picture cycles that have come down to us from late antiquity. There were real masterpieces of illustration and illumination art in the Middle Ages. Monasteries created brilliantly beautiful Bibles, Gospels and Psalteries. These books were mainly used in worship, because nothing could be valuable enough for the celebration of the liturgy, i.e. for the worship of God. With the publication of the printed Luther Bible in the 16th century, the widespread dissemination of the "Holy Scriptures" translated into German and the images that accompany the text began. Cranach, Dürer and later Matthaeus Merian the Elder. Ä. are outstanding masters of those times of decorating the Bible. Biblical stories became almost popular in the 19th century through the artist group of the »Nazarenes«; the much-read work, which Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld provided with impressive wood engravings, entitled »The Bible in Pictures«, is still available in countless copies today.3 With great imagination, many well-known artists of the 20th century created pictures of the Old and New Testament, for example Otto Dix, Marc Chagall, Salvador Dalí, HAP Grieshaber, Friedensreich Hundertwasser, Arnulf Rainer and many more Painters from our immediate vicinity, namely Dieter Franck from Schwäbisch Hall and Sieger Köder from Ellwangen / Rosenberg, dealt equally creatively and intensively with religious writings of Judaism (Kabbalah) and with the Bible.

II. Willy Wiedmann (1929-2013) places himself in a rich artistic tradition with his Bible project. But not just thematically. The external form of his picture narration, the continuous series, where one picture and one motif joins the other without interruption and some scenic transitions become fluid, has a long history in the visual arts. Experts call this narrative form »continuous representation« .5 It characterizes the »Wiedmann Bible« as well as the picture frieze of the ancient Trajan column in Rome or contemporary comics.

III. What is it that makes the "Wiedmann Bible" so special? - The artist painted 3,333 panels of the same size and linked them together to form a 1,166-meter-long folding book (Leporello). He created his work in the long period of 16 years (from 1984 to 2000). And he executed it in his personal "handwriting", the "Polykonmalerei". This word is a stylistic and pictorial term from Willy Wiedmann. The term stands for "multiple panel painting." 6 It initially describes the process mentioned, in which many panels are joined together and combined into a frieze-like, row-like, "continuous" whole. In addition, however, the outlines of the individual pictorial objects are shaped in a very specific way: the contours of the figures and things shown, people, animals, plants, the water, the sky, are angular, angular, polygonal; on the outside they correspond to the rectangular format limits of the picture panels, and at the same time they "answer" inwards, to one another. A structure is created. Correspondence. A well thought-out order and wholeness. - The method of creating such an image is rooted in abstract painting of the early 20th century. Kinship lines lead to the French Cubists, the Russian avant-gardists and the German Expressionists; Wiedmann's »Polykonmalerei« emerged from the construction art of such important painters as Picasso, Braque, Malewitsch, Poliakoff, Schmidt-Rottluff, Franz Marc or Adolf Hölzel.

Willy Wiedmann was gifted in many ways, a "multi-talent". He was not only active as a painter, but also as a sculptor, writer, gallery owner, musician and composer.8 In the 1950s and 60s he studied at the Stuttgart University of Music and at the Academy of Fine Arts, there also with the very prominent one Willi Baumeister (1889-1955). Baumeister was a student of Adolf Hölzel (1853-1934), a pioneer of modern painting in Germany. Religious themes also appear in the work of Baumeister and Hölzel.

IV. Something else seems to me particularly remarkable in all of this. It concerns the claim of the work. With his illustrated Bible, Wiedmann expressly wants to pass on the Christian message. He painted 3,333 pictures - not by chance. Christian symbolism speaks from this number: The 3 refers to the Trinity, the three-fold, three-one God, the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. The number 3 appears 4 times for all 4 points of the compass, because the Christian mandate is missionary: Jesus of Nazareth taught his disciples and sent them out to proclaim the message of salvation all over the world. Bible «for their part strive to infinity, they want to reach beyond all boundaries. In this sense, the work of art may not just be "the longest painted Bible" 10. The intention is rather to bring the Good News comprehensively, as well as "universally" into the picture. In order to be able to do justice to this claim, a visual language that is understandable is of course required. Wiedmann's pictures speak wordlessly, but easily to young and old, "initiated" and non-Bible connoisseurs. And they are extremely rich in surprising details. You are happy to tell. They have an imaginative effect on us viewers. In addition, I believe that the richness and exuberant abundance of the presentation have a historical-theological justification: Everything being and every occurrence, the whole history of creation and humanity with all its manifestations, ups and downs, with all confusions and miracles, becomes history as one , the ultimate and saving goal - towards Jesus Christ. Willy Wiedmann's picture Bible wants to invite us to look. It offers us a lot of stimulating things to talk to one another. Let us be drawn into their »narrative stream«, true to the motto: Research the Bible!

1 Literarische Quellen berichten über entsprechende Handschriften seit dem 3. Jh. — Zur Einführung in den Themenzusammenhang seien für kunsthistorisch Interessierte die folgenden Artikel empfohlen: a) Lexikon der Kunst, Neubearb., Bd. 1 (München 1996), s. v. Bibelillustration, S. 528-529; b) Reallexikon zur Deutschen Kunst- geschichte, Bd. 2 (München 1948), s. v. Bibel-Illustration, Sp. 478-517; abrufbar im Internet via: RDK Labor, (27.10.2016); c) Lexikon der christlichen Ikonographie, Sonder- ausg., Bd. 1 (Rom, [u.a.] 1994), s. v. Bibelillustration, Sp. 282-289; s. v. Bible Moralisée, Sp. 289-293; s. v. Biblia Pauperum, Sp. 293-298; d) Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, Sonderausg., Bd. 2 (Freiburg, [u.a.] 2006), s. v. Bi- belillustration, Sp. 403-404 (mit Hinweis auf Theologische Realenzyklopädie u.a.). Ferner e) Wikipedia, s. v. Buchmalerei, §§ 1-2, 4 (abendländische, byzantinische, jüdische Buchmalerei); /wiki/Buchmalerei (27.10.2016).

2 Benannt nach dem Ort ihrer Aufbewahrung, der Österreichischen Nationalbibliothek in Wien. Die Handschrift ist ein Fragment des ersten Buches der Bibel. Genaueres z.B. im Lexikon der Kunst, Bd. 7 (Neubearb., 1996), s. v. Wiener Genesis, S. 793.

3 Die Bibel in Bildern. 240 Darstellungen, erfunden und auf Holz gezeichnet [...], 2 Bände, 1852 und 1860 erstmals in Leipzig erschienen, zahlreiche Auflagen und Nachdrucke bis in jüngste Zeit.

4 Zu diesen beiden Künstlern siehe: a) Dieter Franck Haus, (27.10.2016); b) Sieger Köder Museum, (27.10.2016). — Das Rahmenthema ist hochaktuell, zumal im Luther- Jahr. Noch bis zum 08.01.2017 zeigt das Deutschordensmuseum Bad Mergentheim die Ausstellung »Botschaft im Bild – Bibelillustrationen aus sechs Jahrhunderten«. »Die Wiedmann Bibel« wird im Jahr 2017 auch in Wittenberg zu sehen sein.

5 Siehe Lexikon der Kunst, Bd. 3 (Neubearb., 1996), s. v. Kontinuierende Darstellung, S. 847-848.

6 Vgl. Die Wiedmann Bibel, (27.10.2016); dort heißt es, Wiedmann habe mit der sog. »Polykonmalerei« oder »Polykonie« seinen individuellen Stil entwickelt. Und weiter: »Den Namen 'Polykon' leitete er aus den griechischen Worten polýs 'viel' und ikon 'Bild oder Tafel' her. Die Polykonmalerei ist eine Mehrtafel- und Mehrfarbenmalerei, das Spiel der Farben und Formen mit der Unendlichkeit. Einzelne Bilder sind ein Ausschnitt aus einer Sequenz, die beliebig fortgesetzt werden könnte.« — Das graphische Formprinzip dieser Malkunst beruht auf der konsequenten Anwendung des 45°- und des 90°-Winkels. Siehe dazu ergänzend Galerie Wiedmann, (04.11.2016), dort den Abschnitt »POLYKONE SYNFONIEN« [sic!].

7 Auch an Piet Mondrian ist hier zu denken. Die bildnerischen Methoden der Klassischen Modernen werden in der zweiten Hälfte des 20. Jhs insbesondere von US-amerikanischen Künstlern aufgenommen und weiterentwikkelt. Stellvertretend seien Ellsworth Kelly (1923-2015) und Frank Stella (geb. 1936) genannt. Kellys Farbfeldmalerei (»Hard Edge«) und Stellas neuartig geformte Leinwände (»Shaped Canvases«) wirkten inspirierend für viele Künstler ihrer Generation.

8 Siehe Die Wiedmann Bibel, (27.10.2016). Dort auch Weiteres zu Leben und Werk des Künstlers.

9 Siehe Markus-Evangelium 13,10 und Matthäus-Evangelium 28,19-20.

10 So Die Wiedmann Bibel, (27.10.2016)


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