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Why so many museums celebrate the old masters

The
German historian Volker Reinhardt, 65, has been teaching since the early 1990s
the University of Friborg in Switzerland. He is considered an expert on Italian
History, especially for the Renaissance era, and authored books
about the dynasties of the Medici and the Borgia, about Leonardo, Machiavelli and
Michelangelo. But he has also researched beyond the borders of Italy: In
He devoted himself to life, among others Martin Luther
and the Marquis de Sade.

SPIEGEL: Mr.
Reinhardt, the museums celebrate as elaborately as never the painting of the past. What does that say about our present?

Reinhardt: That
there is a yearning for enchantment in our disenchanted world. Just
the mysterious rests, we think, more or less hidden in the womb
a distant story and should be decrypted. This is like a uranium,
and in a world that has made almost everything explainable, it works more than
ever. Our handling of the images of the past is an expression of this.

SPIEGEL: The
Present is hard to see through and understand. Is not it easy?
only more tempting to indulge in the beauty of century-old sculptures than to deal with the actuality?

Reinhardt: Of course our world has become over complicated. The yearning for the mystery is just as much the longing for a great simplification. From the earth, so many stars can be recognized, others can be guessed, they should be trillions, we humans in the cosmos are easily lost, insignificant. So we hope for an appreciation, a realization also about the meaning of life, and hope to find such revelations in the past. Even the great minds of the Renaissance and subsequent centuries bitterly discussed where the greater wisdom can be found, in antiquity or in the present. But the majority of people still retain the basic feeling that the truth can be found in the past. That there is an explanation for what may have been lost to us humans. With the aspect of beauty it is not so easy.

SPIEGEL: What do you mean?

Reinhardt: Are the scenes, for example, a Pieter Bruegel beautiful? Is the "Mona Lisa" really nice? I do not think so! I do not believe that it corresponds to Leonardo's ideal of beauty. He expresses something else that must have been very important to him. He did not want to sell the picture, he brusquely rejected princes standing in line with him. He saw something other than beauty in this woman. In my opinion, he wanted to use the painting to address the history of the earth, the age of the earth.

SPIEGEL: Leonardo estimated the age of the earth to be higher than the church and science did – and he was right.

Reinhardt: The fact that he wanted to reflect the age of the planet with the representation, as I suspect, is only one theory among many. But the Mona Lisa is not beautiful, and Leonardo's painting by Anna Selbtritt is not. The Jesus boy on it is to be seen as a naughty boy who – so I see it – breaks the neck of an innocent little lamb.

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