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Postcolonial reflections on Romantic understandings of nature

Art historian Miguel A. Gaete receives Klaus Heyne Award for Research in German Romanticism

Book Announcement

Goethe University Frankfurt

Dr. Miguel Gaete

image: Dr. Miguel Gaete, winner of Goethe University Frankfurt’s German Romanticism Award. (Photo: private) view more 

Credit: private

Informed by approaches drawn from a history of ideas, cultural studies and postcolonial theory, art historian Dr. Miguel A. Gaete examined the paintings and drawings of six less-known German artists, who travelled to Chile in the 19th century and depicted the indigenous population, the South American landscapes and the local flora and fauna.

In his dissertation thesis, “Depicting Terra Incognita: German Romanticism, Arts, Sciences, and the Colonial Gaze in Chile, 1800–1899,” Gaete demonstrates that German artists had more than just Humboldt’s South American images and romantic theories about the relationship between humankind, nature, landscape, and aesthetics in mind when they journeyed to the Spanish-American colony to depict and describe the country and its people. Their paintings and drawings can also be seen as influenced by contemporary notions of “race,” “Volk,” a profound sense of cultural superiority and ambitious colonial aspirations.

Chilean-born Miguel A. Gaete will receive the Klaus Heyne Prize for this postcolonial study. Awarded for the second time in 2023, the prize was donated to Goethe University Frankfurt by the pediatrician and Romanticism enthusiast Prof. Dr. Klaus Heyne (1937–2017), to honor outstanding contributions to the study of German Romanticism. Endowed with €15,000 (5,000 euros for own purposes, 10,000 euros for the organization of a conference conducted at Goethe University), the scientific award will be presented at a ceremony held at Goethe University on October 11 this year.

In announcing its decision, the jury highlighted the fact that Gaete’s work paves the way for future research into the discursive and cultural connections between German Romantic art and colonial structures. The Heyne Award jury is composed of Prof. Dr. Katharina Boehm (Chair of English Literature and Culture, University of Passau), Prof. Dr. Roland Borgards (Department of German Literature and its Didactics, Goethe University), Prof. Dr. Mechthild Fend (Department of Art History, Goethe University), Dr. Aurelio Fichter (Benvenuto Cellini Society e.V.), Dr. Mareike Hennig (Freies Deutsches Hochstift Frankfurt), and Prof. Dr. Frederike Middelhoff (Department of German Literature and its Didactics, Goethe University).

The chair of the jury, Frederike Middelhoff, Professor of Modern German with a focus on Romanticism Studies, emphasizes: “Gaete’s work constitutes a milestone in the inquiry into the motivations, scholarly networks and artistic practices of artists – both close to German Romanticism and working within colonial contexts –, who, with their pictures and drawings, lastingly shaped how Germans viewed Chile in the 19th century. Gaete’s critical reading of the artists’ ‘colonial gaze’ prompts important conversations about German Romanticism in the history of art and cultural studies, which must address Romanticism’s problematic areas and colonial legacies. It should be noted that Gaete’s monograph does not aim to provide exhaustive answers to the extensive questions related to these issues. Further research is necessary, and Gaete is committed to deepen this investigation at an international conference, scheduled to take place in Frankfurt in 2024 and made possible by the award money. We are very pleased that the Klaus Heyne Award for Research in German Romanticism can help promote this essential research.”

The award winner prevailed over a large number of innovative applications from the fields of German literary studies, musicology, the history of philosophy, and comparative Romantic studies. Dr. Miguel A. Gaete studied art history in Santiago and Barcelona, and is currently conducting research with a scholarship from the Gerda Henkel Foundation. Gaete, who completed his award-winning dissertation at the University of York (UK), already holds a PhD in philosophy from the Autonomous University of Madrid. He completed several fellowships and scholarships in Germany, including in Jena and Weimar. His dissertation project will be published as a monograph this year by Cumbria Press in New York under the title “Germans in Vaterland: Romanticism, Arts, Sciences and the Colonial Gaze in Chile, 1800–1899.” Gaete is currently preparing another manuscript for print, titled “The Leader of the Time: Carl Alexander Simon, Romanticism, and Colonial Imaginations in Southern Chile.”

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