Nazi vs Niebelung: Satirising National Socialism at Harvard's Germanic Museum

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Between 1935 and 1937, the Jewish-American artist Lewis W. Rubenstein (1908-2003) completed a mural cycle at Harvard University's Germanic Museum that visually conflated scenes from Richard Wagner's nineteenth-century Der Ring des Niebelungen operas with satirical images of Nazis, including one of Adolf Hitler in the guise of a bare-chested dwarf. Created as a deliberate criticism of the Third Reich and its visual propaganda, Rubenstein's mural was largely recognised by contemporary audiences as a political, rather than historical, work of art. The artist and the museum's curator, Charles L. Kuhn, nevertheless remained ambivalent toward the iconography of the cycle, maintaining that it was not intended as anti-Hitler propaganda, so as not to incite censorship from the larger administration. The current study argues that Rubenstein's mural not only functions as the artist's personal criticism of Hitler, but as a public condemnation of National Socialism on Harvard's campus when high-ranking university officials, including president James Conant Bryant, were contrastingly seeking appeasement with German officials prior to the Second World War.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)389-411
Number of pages23
JournalOxford Art Journal
Issue number3
StatePublished - Dec 2012
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Visual Arts and Performing Arts
  • History


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