Breaking the Cycle: From Naturalism to Epic in Käthe Kollwitz's A Weavers' Rebellion (1893-97) Open Access

Blakeley, Hannah Rose (2016)

Permanent URL:


This honors thesis examines a cycle, or series of images, entitled A Weavers' Rebellion (Ein Weberaufstand, 1893-97) by Käthe Kollwitz, a German nineteenth- and twentieth-century draftsman, printmaker, and sculptor. Research on Kollwitz has been relatively limited, particularly in recent years, and most scholars consider her work within a reductively feminist paradigm, interpreting her art in ways that emphasize her biography, motherhood, and womanness instead of the artistic qualities and intricacies of her prints. In this thesis I offer a different kind of scholarly engagement with Kollwitz and her works, closely examining a set of her images and discussing their significance in terms of contextually relevant theatrical and cultural sources and theories. While recognizing the importance of Kollwitz's identity as a woman artist, I hope to convey in this project that the visual content of her prints and their direct influences constitute sufficient material for analysis without needing to invariably situate them within, or connect them to, details of her biography. Kollwitz based her Weavers' Rebellion cycle on a play by Gerhart Hauptmann (1862-1946) called The Weavers (Die Weber, 1893), which dramatizes the Silesian weavers' rebellion of the 1840s. I use scholarly discussions of Hauptmann's work by the playwright Bertolt Brecht (1898-1956) and the literary critic Peter Szondi (1929-1971) to analyze the ways in which Kollwitz's cycle represents these workers. An initial consideration of both Hauptmann's The Weavers and Kollwitz's A Weavers' Rebellion suggests dominant readings of the works as tragic and Naturalist, evoking feelings of empathy and pity that purge audiences of reactive feelings and do nothing to liberate the workers from their conditions. Further examination of both play and cycle, however, exposes epic aspects that explicitly engage contemporary contexts and reveal social structures responsible for the workers' oppression. This interdisciplinary project relies on critical theory, philosophy, and art historical methods to provide a long warranted, in-depth analysis of Kollwitz's images.

Table of Contents

Introduction. 1

Chapter One: Drama and Epic in Gerhart Hauptmann's The Weavers (1893). 23

Images: A Weavers' Rebellion. 46

Chapter Two: Drama and Epic in Käthe Kollwitz's A Weavers' Rebellion (1893-97). 52

Conclusion. 78

Sources. 90

About this Honors Thesis

Rights statement
  • Permission granted by the author to include this thesis or dissertation in this repository. All rights reserved by the author. Please contact the author for information regarding the reproduction and use of this thesis or dissertation.
  • English
Research Field
Committee Chair / Thesis Advisor
Committee Members
Last modified

Primary PDF

Supplemental Files