Saturday, November 28, 2015

Goethe as collector 3

J.H. Tischbein der Ältere, Gamblers at the "Ridotto"
Nietzsche: “It is the work of the artist that invents the man who created it. ‘Great men’ as they are venerated are subsequent pieces of minor fiction.”

Some additional thoughts re Goethe as a collector and about Der Sammler und die Seinigen. The DKV commentary notes that Goethe’s journey to Italy, with the opportunity to view works of classical sculpture, was prefaced already by his father’s journey there as a young man. In that sense, Goethe and his father, like the English cognoscenti in Ruth Guilding's book, were representatives of a class of men who found inspiration in Italy.

Goethe reports in Dichtung und Wahrheit of his father’s patronage of local artists whose works hung on the walls of the home in Frankfurt. In this connection, Ernst Beutler mentions in his commentary (Gedenkausgabe, vol. 13) that there were few public galleries in German lands: in Dusseldorf, Dresden, Kassel, Pommersfelden. Even in Leipzig and Frankfurt, one’s access to paintings required a visit to the many private galleries, as the one depicted in Der Sammler. Interestingly, these private collections, including that of Goethe’s father, were  listed among the notable sights in travel guides.

What struck me in particular about Der Sammler was the emphasis on taste. The “rubrics” that I mentioned in the first post were a summation of what the “small academy” had perceived among the reactions of visitors to the collection. In the Fourth Letter, the collector wrote of the spontaneity of such reactions: “Kunstwerke reizen auf und vor ihnen genirt sich niemand, niemand zweifelt an seiner eignen Empfindung, und daran hat man nicht Unrecht, niemand zweifelt an der Richtigkeit seines Urteils …” Each of the one-sided tendencies of viewers and of collectors speaks to individual subjectivity. Goethe did not want to leave the matter there. Our appreciation of art should go beyond our own subjective reaction. It was necessary to leave aside the “insouciant Woosterism” of the English cognoscenti of whom Guilding writes. To do so clearly required study.

The DKV commentary notes that though Goethe saw quite a bit of art in his life, his viewing experience was actually quite limited. He even avoided informing himself of the large “Academy” exhibitions in Berlin and Dresden, while the exhibitions he curated in Weimar lacked an overview of the larger German artistic production of his time. In Goethe’s defense, however, I would say that it is not necessary to know all the instances in order to get an impression of what all the instances “express.”
Giulio Romano, The Fall of the Giants (1532-34)
For instance, I have not read a newspaper for years (or, similarly, followed the news on the internet), for which I am often criticized by friends. “How do you know what is going on in the world?” they ask. In general, however, I am quite aware what is going on in the world, simply by a quick glance at the headlines, but more important is an assessment of what the news "means." For instance, Turkey shot down a Russian jet the other day; but Russia, although Putin is angry, does not attack Turkey. I understand that for Russia to have acted (e.g., to have shot down a Turkish plane in retalliation) would have been “one-sided.” A lack of response may anger some Russians, but Putin is in this for the long run. He is playing a larger game. The incident itself is simply one of many incidents that fall under the rubric of “international affairs,” an abstract category under which can be subsumed many particulars. One cannot let oneself be distracted by the particulars but, instead, try to interpret their meaning within the larger international context.

So, the fact that Goethe did not have the knowledge of art works possessed by even a university graduate in art history does not vitiate his interpretation. Even miniature works sufficed. His mineralogical collection replicated the same purpose: small specimens as representatives of an “integral” idea and as avenues of  intuition, of “Anschauung.” Goethe, in contrast to the English collectors, was indeed a “library mouse.”

Johann Heinrich Lips, Portrait of Lavater
Der Sammler requires more study than I have given to it in these posts. I was initially attracted by the seeming abstractness of the discussions and sought to add a little flesh to my understanding. Thus, the images I have posted. The long second letter in Der Sammler concerns the length to which an obsession with exacting naturalism leads, and at one point Goethe appears to mock the life-size family portraits by Johann Heinrich Tischbein, father of Goethe's friend. The collector mentions in his own collection a portrait of his parents that is concealed behind a “blind” door that, when opened would cause the viewer some consternation.

Mein Vater trat mit meiner Mutter am Arme gleichsam heraus und erschreckte durch die Wirklichkeit, welche theils durch die Umstände, theils durch die Kunst hervorgebracht war. Er war abgebildet, wie er, gewöhnlich gekleidet, von einem Gastmahl, aus einer Gesellschaft, nach Hause kam. Das Bild ward an dem Orte, zu dem Orte, mit aller Sorgfalt gemahlt, die Figuren aus einem gewissen Standpuncte genau perspectivisch gehalten und die Kleidungen, mit der größten Sorgfalt, zum enschiedensten Effecte gebracht.

Apparently Tischbein's painting still survives. Such a perspectival treatment is also seen in the same artist's painting of gamblers in Venice, in which Tischbein also placed himself. In the letter to Schiller concerning Der Sammler, Goethe mentions Giulio Romano as belonging to the category of "Skizzisten," which seems somewhat at odds with the naturalism of the painting of The Fall of the Giants above, from Sala dei Giganti in the Palazzo del Te, in Mantua. And I had to wonder whether Goethe had seen Lips' portrait of Lavater.

Picture credits: Galerie Neuse

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Goethe as collector 2

Kleinkünstler: Marie Sibylla Merian (ca. 1705)
The English had collected so much Classical statuary that by the late 19th century a German scholar, Adolf Michaelis, traveled to England and wrote a catalogue entitled Ancient Marbles in Great Britain (1882). As Nigel Spivey writes in his review of Ruth Guilding’s book, most of what Michaelis documented in private collections has now been disbursed, and Michaelis recommended back then already that private collections be nationalized. He was also disturbed at the sad state of many of the ancient works. For instance, those that were outdoors were covered with lichen and other undergrowth.

As I wrote in my previous post, the 18th-century collectors were Woosterish in their enthusiasm for Classical sculpture, and documentary assessment was left to such “foreign boffins” as Michaelis. As Spivey writes of the collectors in Guilding’s study, “the gentleman is not a library mouse.” Which brings me to Goethe’s Der Sammler und die Seinigen. Can there be another more exemplary “library mouse” than the collector in this short work of Goethe’s, who, after all, refers to the setting of the discussions that take place as “unsere kleine Akademie”? And to what extent does the collector and his attitudes correspond to Goethe?
Charakteristiker: Raffael, Adam and Eve
When I turned to Der Sammler recently (WA I, 47, pp. 121–227), I discovered that it was well marked up, indicating that I had read it carefully at one time. Clearly it had not stuck with me, and I attribute this fault in myself  to Goethe’s abstract language when talking about art (which contrasts with the immensely visual comparisons that characterize his poetic oeuvre).

I notice that I underlined the following comment of the collector on the viewer’s response to a work of art: “Das Höhere was in uns liegt will erweckt sein, wir wollen verehren und uns selbst verehrungswürdig fühlen.” Goethe scholars have encountered endlessly such apercus. One gets the point, but one can't quite see what is meant, and Goethe doesn’t help matters by neglecting to give examples.

Interestingly, there is very little scholarly commentary on Der Sammler, but the DKV edition notes the influence of Schiller in the argument for “eine integrale Betrachtung der sichtbaren Gestalt des Kunstwerks.” Thus, “the small academy” draws up rubrics that address the one-sidedness  (Einseitigkeiten) with which artists create and viewers respond to works of art and which ultimately fail to produce “the integral” or “the ideal,” in the work or in the imagination. The different varieties of one-sided practice or appreciation correspond to subjective tendencies of individuals (here is the influence of Kant’s aesthetics). It is only by combining two or more such tendencies that “ein Werk höherer Art” can be produced, one that unites both “Ernst” and “Spiel.”

Undulisten: Corregio, Jesus
Since Goethe gives no examples, the pictures here are meant to supply what he meant by the following: “Nachahmer” (“es fehlt ihm die Kunstwahrheit als schöner Schein”); “Imaginanten” (“Der Imaginant schadet die Kunst unendlich, weil er sie über all Gränzen hinausjagt”); “Charakteristiker”; “Undulisten” (prefers “das Weichere und Gefällige ohne Charakter und Bedeutung”) ;”Kleinkünstler” “Skizzisten” ("Der Skizzist spricht aber unmittelbar zum Geiste …  Der Geist spricht zum Geiste, und das Mittel wodurch es geschehen sollte, wird zu nichte"). Except for the “Imaginant,” I did not make up these examples; they are taken from a letter to Schiller of June 22, 1799. Of course, none of these are examples of statuary, but the rubrics are applicable to painting.

Imaginant: Henry Fuseli, The Nightmare

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Goethe as collector

Philipp Hackert, Feuerwerk auf der Engelsburg in Rom, 1775
Most Goethe fans have had the experience of encountering Goethe in unexpected places. I wrote previously that I usually go to the index of books to see if his name is listed, whatever the subject matter of the book. So it was, while I was perusing a review in an old issue (Feb. 13, 2015) of the Times Literary Supplement that Goethe popped up. The book concerned the 18th-century English "marble mania," namely, the collecting of Greek statuary during the 18th century, when many northern Europeans ventured south of the Alps. As the reviewer Nigel Spivey writes: “The Rome of the Grand Tourists has not vanished. The houses where Goethe gazed ecstatically out of a window and where Keats breathed his last are both kept as shrines.”

But the book under review, Owning the Past: Why the English Collected Antique Sculpture, 1640–1840, by Ruth Guilding, also prompted considerations about Goethe as a collector, in comparison with the English variety examined by Guilding in the same period. These considerations in turn led me to look anew at his short “letter-novel” Der Sammler und die Seinigen, first published in the Propyläen in 1799.

The collecting of ancient works, regarded almost as heirlooms, was widespread among a certain class of men (for the most part), but Goethe’s concerns, as portrayed in Der Sammler und die Seinigen, were different from those of his English contemporaries. The difference is illuminating.
The Newby Venus
First to the English collectors. Unlike modern collectors, who pay huge sums of money for works of art (the Emir of Qatar paid 8 million English pounds for the so-called Newby Venus), for 18th-century aesthetes collecting was more than a capital investment. “Gentlemen," writes Guilding, "do no buy a statue in order to make a commercial profit.” She argues that the English collector collected Classical sculptures, in particular, “in order to transform  and define himself — as an English gentleman.” The development of what she calls a “nexus between aristocratic virtue and Classical sculpture” begins after the Tudors. And whether it was a bust of Seneca or a portrait of a gladiator, these were “monuments demanding display and personal emulation.”

Richard Payne Knight, a libertine?
By the way, it seems that not all reactions to Classical sculpture were devout in character, but were indeed carnal in appreciation, e.g., as attested in tales of the well-known antiquarian and numismatist Richard Payne Knight, who was known as a “libertine.” Knight traveled in Sicily in 1777 with Goethe’s friend Philipp Hackert, during which journey he kept a journal. It was not published, but Goethe was familiar with it when he traveled to Sicily, and he translated and included it in his biography of Hackert.

So, Goethe would have been acquainted with the collecting activities of English cognoscenti of Classical sculpture, but we can definitely say that he did not share the “Woosterish insouciance” that characterized the relation of the English collectors to their objects. Der Sammler is testimony to a very different mentality. The commentary on this work in the DKV edition of Goethe's aesthetic writings quotes Goethe, in a conversation with Kanzler Müller in 1830, about his collecting activity: "Ich habe mich nicht nach Laune oder Willkur, sondern jedesmal mit Plan und Absicht zu meiner eigenen folgerechten Bildung gesammelt und an jedem Stück meines Besitzes etwas gelernt."

Next up: Der Sammler und die Seinigen. Stay tuned

Picture credits: Klassik Stiftung Weimar; BBC

Saturday, November 21, 2015

German Literature Month

Scrolling around the internet for interesting images or items about Goethe and his circle, I came across an announcement of German Literature Month, now about three-quarters into the month. It is the undertaking of a consortium of bloggers, and this is the fifth iteration. I was particularly struck that one of the bloggers selected Schiller as the writer she would report on. If you go to the link for Lizzy Siddal, you will find her reports on, among other plays, The Robbers. One reader's comment included Goethe's reaction to the play:  “I return from Italy and find some completely repulsive literary works held in high regard.”

The image above is the cover of a version of the play for children, "neu erzählt," of course. I love the description of the book:

"Karl Moor, der kluge und eigentlich tugendsame Sohn eines fränkischen Grafen begeht während seiner Studienzeit aus Leichtsinn ein paar Dummheiten. Bald jedoch bereut er diese und bittet seinen Vater in einem Brief um Erlaubnis, zu ihm und seiner Geliebten Amalia aufs Schloss zurückkehren zu dürfen. Doch der Brief erreicht den Vater nicht: Karls neidischer, missgünstiger Bruder Franz fängt ihn ab. Durch bösartige Lügen und Intrigen bringt er den Vater sogar dazu, den geliebten Sohn Karl zu verstoßen. Verbittert zieht Karl daraufhin mit einigen Kameraden in die böhmischen Wälder, um als Räuberhauptmann das erfahrene Unrecht zu rächen. Wird es ihm gelingen, auf den rechten Weg zurück zu finden …?"

Gee, why wouldn't our students love such a story?

Friday, November 6, 2015

Katharina Mommsen at 90

Katharina Mommsen at home (photo: Norbert von der Groeben)
Gads, I should have posted about the above two months ago, when I first came across it at The Book Haven: Cynthia Haven's Blog for the Written Word. Cynthia is in the very enviable position of living and working at Stanford University, and her postings on visiting and local writers reduce me to envy. Her post today concerned the death at the age of 91 of René Girard, a faculty member at Stanford since 1981.

In the Goethe Society of North America we  have our own eminence. Back on September 19 Professor Mommsen, who lives in Palo Alto, enjoyed "an intimate birthday celebration at her home" with a circle of friends and students, according to The Book Haven. (The photo above, from The Book Haven site, was taken on that occasion.) The highlight of the day was a visit to Palo Alto by the German consul in San  Francisco and the bestowal of "Germany's highest honor for a lifetime of cultural service." (Does anyone know what this is called?) The Book Haven's report quotes Gerald Gillespie, emeritus professor of German and Comparative Lit at Stanford, on Katharina: “She is still plugging away fourteen hour days on the ‘monster’ international project of dozens of volume on the genesis of the works of Goethe.”

In elaborating on Professor Mommsen's career, The Book Haven explains the "monster project": Die Entstehung von Goethes Werken in Dokumenten, which according to de Gruyter's website now consists of eight volumes, the last being "Hackert -- Indische Dichtungen." Ten to go. May she live to be at least 100. And of course we owe to her early and continuing publications on Goethe and Islam.

Some years back I reviewed Katharina Mommsen's Goethe's Art of Living for the Goethe Yearbook. I began my review as follows: "There are a number of scholars for whom not only Goethe's works but also his person are something like second nature. Katharina Mommsen is one of these, and it is always of interest to fledgling scholars like myself to contemplate their enthusiasm and erudition."

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

John Le Carré speaks German

And quite good German at that.

I was going back through some videocasts of Druckfrisch, a German TV show devoted to contemporary literature, hosted by the genial Dennis Scheck. I came across his interview with John Le Carré on the occasion of the publication of the German translation of Our Kind of Traitor (Verräter wie wir). The interview took place in Bern, Switzerland, in October 2010, and for those who would like to watch. it can be found at ARD until November 1; but if you miss it there, a site called "" (great name!) has the interview available at an time.

Dennis Scheck
Scheck goes on location often, even to the U.S. : the most recent program is his interview with Salman Rushdie in New York. On these occasions he speaks English with his guests (Kinky Friedman!), with voice over in German, but no translation was necessary for Le Carré's. His German was very good, and he had no trouble discussing his career and his books.

Just the other day on one of my German podcasts, I heard an interview with the former director of the British Museum, Neil MacGregor, who is now in Berlin, where is playing a major role in the "Humboldt Forum." He was interviewed on the podcast about an exhibition he had organized at the British Museum: Germany: Memories of a Nation -- A 600-Year History in Objects. He too spoke German, and well he might, as he will be living in Berlin. But, although he understood the interviewer's questions perfectly, his German was not as fluent as Le Carré's. Still, I am sure he will get the hang of it.

Two posts on this blog (see here and here) have mentioned Le Carré in connection with Fritz Strich, with whom the very young Le Carré (actually David Cornwell) studied in Bern when he was still a teenager. Deutschlandfunk has the written text of the interview with Dennis Scheck, which includes a portion of text that does not appear in the videocast. Here is that text, which tells how important German was to him, even for his novels. Imagine: he is familiar with Wolfram von Eschenbach!

Ich war damals 16 Jahre alt und war seit meinem fünften Lebensjahr in Internaten und Institutionen. Meine Mutter war verschwunden und mein Vater war ein komplizierter Mann, manchmal im Gefängnis, manchmal nicht. Dann kam ich praktisch als Flüchtling hierher und wollte Deutsch lernen. Ich hatte einen sehr guten Deutschlehrer in meiner Schule in England und ich dachte, als guter rebellischer Halbstarker, wenn die ganze Welt die Deutschen hassten, müssen sie auch anständig sein, irgendwo. Und dann habe ich mich, wahrscheinlich sehr naive und einfache Art, in deutsche Kultur eingetieft. Man könnte fast mit dem Nibelungenlied von Wolfram von Eschenbach auch beginnen. Die haben auf mich einen großen Eindruck gemacht in meinem Roman. Wenn es eine Formel gibt: "Take somebody, who knows nothing", und dann: "teach him something." Sogar im "Spion, der aus der Kälte kam: Er lernt am Ende, auch wenn es ihn das Leben kostet, die Menschlichkeit. Ich erinnere mich, ich glaube, das war in Parzival von Wolfram von Eschenbach. Es gibt einen Augenblick, wo er diesen alten Mann Anfortas wiedertrifft und er sieht ihn, das ist das zweite oder dritte Mal, dass er ihn sieht, und er hat inzwischen furchtbare Erfahrungen gemacht, Parzival, und er sagt, wie ist es mit dir, wie geht es dir, und dazu Anfortas, jetzt lernst du die Menschlichkeit, das ist das erste Mal sozusagen, dass du nach meiner Gesundheit gefragt hast.

Picture credits: ARD;

Monday, October 19, 2015

Goethe and Christiane wed on this day

"Why did Goethe marry Christiane Vulpius," asks Peter Schwartz in an article in volume 15 (2008) of Goethe Yearbook, "his companion of 18 years, on 19 October 1806, five days after Napoleon's victory over Prussia at the battle of Jena-Auerstedt?" Marriage is also the subject of Peter's book After Jena: Goethe's Elective Affinities and the End of the Old Regime, in which appeared the chapter "When Did Goethe Marry When He Did?"

An early legend grew up around the event, namely, that Goethe was grateful to Christiana for her fierceness in the face of plundering by French soldiers, who entered their house in Weimar, raided their larder, and barged into Goethe's bedroom. There is, however, as Peter points out, already a precedent in Goethe's own ouevre, namely, Hermann und Dorothea. The events in the epic concern refugees fleeing the western side of the Rhine, occupied by French Revolutionary armies, and seeking refuge on the eastern side. In this small work the "outsider" Dorothea, defending "home and hearth" (as Peter writes) from French incursion, becomes worthy of an "insider's" marriage and acceptance by Hermann's parents.

More likely, it was precisely Napoleon's incursion into the heart of German lands that prompted the wedding ceremony, performed by Wilhelm Christoph Günther, who was court chaplain of the Jakobskirche in Weimar. As several contemporaries noted, it was a time when the foundations of the old order had been sent trembling. Besides worrying about the fate of all of his papers, documents, art collections, and so on, Goethe now had to be concerned, in the event of his death, with the legal consequences that would arrive should the French Civil Code be enacted in German territories. According to Napoleon, it was not in society's interest to recognize bastards, which was the status of Goethe's "natural son," August. Under the French code, inheritance rights of illegitimate children were not recognized. Thus, although Goethe had named August as his heir in his will of 1797, his ability to do so and to guarantee August's inheritance depended on Carl August's dispensation. Although in the end the duchy retained its own legal system, it was not certain in October 1806 "what sort of laws would obtain in Weimar from that time forward."

Battle of Jena-Auerstädt, October 14, 1806, at 10 a.m.
In part, Goethe's earlier hesitation in marrying Christiana was related to the court's censure of a marriage between a nobleman (Goethe) and a nobody (Christiane). Living together out of wedlock was provocative enough. Friedrich Riemer, Goethe's friend, alluded afterward to Goethe's gift of knowing when to seize the right moment, and their marriage certainly took place at such a moment. As Johann Heinrich Voss wrote in a letter shortly afterward, the moment was one when people were distracted -- many in Weimar had lost everything they owned through the French plundering -- that they would hardly be aware of such a "Kleinigkeit"; and when they did notice, it would already be old news.

Still, Goethe seems to have been hesitant. As Peter writes, it may have been the advice of a French general billeted in Goethe's home who convinced Goethe to marry, enumerating the liabilities that would be in store under Napoleonic law. After finally taking the big step, Goethe rapidly moved on to solidify his affairs. "In the days and weeks after Jena, Goethe was working to set his entire civil estate onto solid legal ground." Thus, he wrote to Carl August in January of 1807 requesting legal title to the house in which he .had been living He also revised his will in early 1807.

All the privileges Goethe enjoyed as a favorite of Carl August would have evaporated under the French Civil Code. As Peter writes: "A legal and political climate more hostile to the feudal state of exception within which Goethe had lived until then could hardly be imagined. His marriage normalized this state of exception to such a degree that Goethe was able to revoke his will and rely on the normal order of inheritance -- on the laws of the land, whatever they were to be -- without fear of untoward consequences."

Picture credits: Emerson Kent