Johann David Passavant was born in 1787 in Germany. There’s isn’t much about Passavant’s personal life but let’s take some time to appreciate his contribution to art history. We know that Passavant was a painter and an enthusiastic spokesman for the Nazarene group. (The Nazarene movement was a group of artists inspired to bring spirituality back into art.)
What Passavant gifted us was his shift on the word oeuvre from his monograph on Raphael. He did publish other articles, but at age 52, his historical collection of Raphael was published and changed the way we write monographs forever. The monograph was titled, Rafael von Urbino und sein Vater Giovanni Santi. According to “Art as Existence” by Gabriele Guercio, “Never before in the history of this form of writing had the artist work been presented so explicitly and systematically as a multidimensional organic whole.” His writing style though similar to other monographers had never been done before. He had to pave his own way through writing his monograph in this form. It must not have been easy but he was determined. It says, “Passavant’s project demanded that he chart Raphael’s progress from within, drawing a web of relations among artist’s works that parallels the course of the artist’s life.” This reminds me of one of those boards with the red thread and thumbtacks. He must have spent a lot of time and energy gathering all the little pieces of Raphael’s life and works but it paid off.
His monograph “epitomized in the literature of art the modern conception of the human being as an expressive individual driven to realize his or her nature, whose life cycle is characterized by a continuous dialectic between being and becoming.” Using this method gives the monograph a similar feel to works of fiction. He does this by giving the readers a view of the artist’s character arc.
I find it fascinating the amount of work it took Passavant to give life to the artists and how impactful it was in the end. It feels like we, as writers, are constantly reminding the world of our humanity. Being human is something so easy to misplace or to leave out, especially with the greats. We give them too much credit. We undermine all the hard work they are putting into their art while also handling the same stressors that come with life; death and loss, heartbreak, mental illness, illness, and all the other things that cause suffering without discrimination. We writers will forever be called to bring life to humanity or to remind humans that they are human. We are here to say,
Hey humans we are always somewhere between becoming and being and that’s ok because we’re all like that.
And then we write about it and live like we believe it. Sometimes it pays off and we get to leave the world a little bit better than when it found us.
Art as Existence by Gabriele Guercio