Otto Dix: The Gospel of MatthewJune 10 2021
Otto Dix (1891-1969) was a German artist associated with the Expressionist and New Objectivity movements. Interested in art from early childhood, Dix spent four years training as a painter’s apprentice before enrolling in the Dresden Academy of Applied Arts at age eighteen. Dix joined the German army at the outbreak of World War One and survived four years as a combat soldier on both the Western and Eastern fronts. Badly traumatized by his war experiences, Dix returned to Dresden in 1918 and resumed his career as an artist. Dix was initially drawn to the anti-establishment views of the Expressionist and Dada movements, but he soon grew disenchanted with the self-indulgence and lack of moral purpose of many artists in those movements. Dix believed that art should be rooted in reality and should promote social and political engagement. He put his beliefs into practice in the 1920s by creating images that depicted the horrors of war as well as the decadence, cruelty and inequality of Weimar German society. Dix’s satirical, critical art was despised by the Nazis, who declared him a “degenerate artist” and removed him from his teaching position at the Dresden Academy after they came to power in 1933. Dix retreated to a mountain village in Southern Germany where he lived in semi-obscurity for most of World War Two. After the war, Dix moved back to Dresden where he continued to work as an artist, drawing much inspiration from his Christian faith. His later work betrays a profound interest in the themes of sin, sacrifice, faith and redemption, and while Dix’s post-1945 art is typically not as shocking as his art from the 1920s and 30s, it is equally compelling in its sincere desire to help heal the ills of a fallen world.
In 1960, the Berlin publisher Käthe Vogt commissioned Dix to design a suite of illustrations for a stand-alone edition of the Gospel of Matthew. Dix created thirty-three images that were printed lithographically with the text in a limited edition of 2,000 books. Some of Dix’s images illustrate key episodes in the narrative of the Gospel; other images depict less famous passages and reflect Dix’s belief that the entire text of the Bible deserves close attention. Dix emphasizes the radical nature of the Gospel by using a deliberately raw, un-polished style and he brings out the allegorical relevance of the stories by depicting some of the characters with modern clothes and hairstyles. This gallery presents Dix’s illustrations for the Gospel of Matthew in their original sequence and paired with the textual passages that inspired them. Because two pages in the book include illustrations on both sides of the same sheet, only thirty-one of the thirty-three illustrations are shown here. The gospel texts quoted in the labels are from The New Oxford Annotated Bible (Revised Fourth Edition.)