Awe and Disbelief
In his book Ungläubiges Staunen (Awe and Disbelief; not yet available in English), Navid Kermani comes face to face with great and lesser-known masterpieces of Christian art. He does this with an open mind, an open heart and unbridled curiosity. It is a bold undertaking: as an Orientalist, Muslim and expert on the Qur’an Kermani has a novel way of viewing and reading the most dramatic and overwhelming paintings by artists ranging from Caravaggio to Botticelli and from Rembrandt to Gerhard Richter. Kermani looks through ‘naïve’ eyes – eyes uncoloured by religious dogma and commonplace interpretations – at famous paintings to see the image artists have formed of Christianity. Why, for instance, does Mary in Michelangelo’s Pieta look much younger than her son who has just been taken down from the Cross? Kermani draws our attention to bold details and unorthodox playfulness in the paintings, observes similarities between the Bible and the Qur’an and poses critical questions about the symbol of the Cross. Through Kermani’s eyes our questions crystallize – universal questions about beauty and transience, betrayal and fidelity, prayer and desire, knowledge and belief, lust and temptation. His unique perspective is both refreshing and inspiring.
The son of Iranian immigrants, Navid Kermani is a German writer, journalist and Professor of Orientalism. In 2015 he received the Peace Price of the German Booksellers Association; other laureates include Nobel Prize winners Svetlana Aleksijevitsj and Orhan Pamuk. According to the jury, Kermani has always championed the individual and respect for different cultures and religions in his work. Beyond political cliché and related in an engaging style, his work is reminiscent of writers such as Joris Luyendijk and Bruce Chatwin. Cossee Publishers recently released Verbazing en Ongeloof, the Dutch translation of Kermani’s bestseller Ungläubiges Staunen.
Andreas Blühm is Director of the Groninger Museum and Professor by Special Appointment in Art History, Museums and Society at the University of Groningen.