1890s: The Birth of Tragedy and Käthe Kollwitz

Käthe Kollwitz' series The Revolt of the Weavers was created during the 1890s while enthusiasm for Nietzsche was strong. Her rendition of the weavers’ atrocious living conditions and unsuccessful revolt recalls elements from the tragedy as genre.

Tragedy as Art’s “primordial form”

Even though the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche wrote his main works in the 1870s and 1880s his philosophy did not truly grab the German public’s attention until the 20th century drew close.

According to Nietzsche art encompasses two aspects: An Apollonian and a Dionysian side. The Apollonian side is concerned with the clear, definite renditions of art, while the Dionysian side represents the ecstatic creativity that is a prerequisite of art.

To Nietzsche, Ancient Greek tragedy constitutes the “primordial form” of art, and Käthe Kollwitz' renditions of the weavers’ revolt recalls elements of tragedy.

The first plate: Poverty

The Revolt of the Weavers comprises six plates. In the first plate of the series, Poverty, a young mother despairs over her child, marked for death in the bed in front of her, and the emaciated appearance of the other figures suggests that they may well share the child’s fate.

The loom in the background and the yarn swift to the right are, of course, natural parts of a weaver’s home, but in this first plate they also introduce a fate-related theme that is employed in the series as a whole. For the thread is an ur-image of fate: According to Greek mythology the Moirae, goddesses of fate, spun and cared for the life’s thread of all human beings.

The next plates in the series depict the revolt of the weavers and its tragic outcome.

Käthe Kollwitz, Revolt of the Weavers. Poverty, 1897-98.

© Käthe Kollwitz, Revolt of the Weavers. Poverty, 1897-98.

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Updated: 26.apr.2018
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