In northern European nation states in the 19th century figures from the narratives of Tacitus who opposed
Rome were appropriated in various manners to contemporary ideologies of nationhood and ethnicity. The
articulation of legendary characters such as the German chieftain Arminius, the leader of the Iceni
Boadicea and the Caledonian Calgacus, found various manifestation in national art in the duration of the
century. A complex phenomenon, this process of appropriation of prototype heroes – or, in some cases,
enemies – was not as simple as might at first sight appear.
My doctoral project looks at the various incarnations of these three tribal leaders in art from 1800
up to the fin-de-siècle, in Germany, Britain, Austria-Hungary and France, as well as other smaller
emerging northern European states, and compares this process of appropriation. Local factors and artistic
trends and schools both worked to influence the manner in which these figures and their legends were
interpreted by artists. The manner in which an artist such as Ernst Bandel, in his great Hermannsdenkmal
chose to portray Arminius in Germany may be contrasted with that of the Czech artist Alfons Mucha,
working in Paris at the end of the century and illustrating a French historian’s history of Germany. Whilst
looking at the same legend and the same source, the two artists reach a very different interpretation of
Arminius, which is influenced by their patrons, locations, their own nationalities and the different
historical circumstances in which each work was created.
Variation in approach can also be found within what are today identified as nation states. Thus,
for example, Bandel’s portrayal of Arminius in the middle of the 19th century can be seen to be very
different from that of Caspar David Friedrich, painting at the beginning of the 19th century and in the
context of the Freiheitskrieg. Both historical circumstances and artists’ individual styles influence their
articulations of the legend. In Britain Boadicea, the leader of the Iceni tribe who rebelled against the
Romans under Claudius, is assimilated to a personification of the new emerging commercial and military
power, in an awkward process whereby the warrior queen who resisted imperial aggression must function
as a symbol of the nation, but of a nation now with imperial ambitions of its own. A further contrast may
also be found in Calgacus, a figure employed by Celtic nationalists as well as British imperialists each for
their own ideologies.
In my paper I would like to discuss some of the work I have been doing and the artists I have
been looking at. I would be especially keen to compare methodologies with other scholars in Classical
Reception and use this as an opportunity to share ideas and suggestions.