Cordula Grewe specializes in German art and culture of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, with particular attention to the resurgence of religion in the first half of the nineteenth century and the role of aesthetic experience in this revival. Her first two books focus primarily on the German Nazarenes. The Nazarenes formed an artistic movement that, despite a far-reaching European influence in its own time, has received scant attention in modern scholarship. Painting the Sacred in the Age of Romanticism, published with Ashgate Publishing in 2009, is the first major study of the evolution, structure, and conceptual innovations of Nazarene art as a quintessentially nineteenth-century language of belief. It brings to light the complex relationship between content, form, and semiotics in Nazarene art. Her second book, The Nazarenes: Romantic Avant-Garde and the Art of the Concept (forthcoming with Penn State UP), centers on issues of representation and theory-building. Taking up the Nazarenes' own intellectualized approach to art-making and propensity toward a conceptual art (Gedankenkunst), the book develops a new theoretical framework that rethinks one of the defining phenomena of nineteenth-century art: historicism.
Grewe's current project is a study of the tableau vivant, which will take her from the period around 1800 to the present. From its entry onto the French stage in the second half of the eighteenth century and the provocative "attitudes" struck by Emma Hart, the later Lady Hamilton, the tableau vivant has problematized the role of the body in art, while complicating notions of high and low, copy and original, mimesis and illusionism, picture and performance. As a radical form of embodiment in which the human form replaces the image in an act of substitution, the "living picture" opens up to recent interests in what Horst Bredekamp has called "picture act theory." At the same time, the tableau vivant has had far-reaching sociological implications from the moment when it, in the so-called Goethezeit, became a mass phenomenon and media event. From then on, the genre has balanced precariously between a para-artistic amateur practice deeply embedded in popular culture and avant-garde appropriation in theater, film, photography, and performance art. The project aims to produce a book-length study, which uses this peculiarly hybrid genre as a vehicle to explore the persistence and transformation of key problems in aesthetics, artistic practice, epistemology, and reality construction across two centuries. In this context, the project examines what seems to be a qualitative shift from earlier practices, thus teasing out anthropological constants and cultural differences in their expression in and construction through image-making and artworks.