Sunday, October 26, 2014

GSNA conference: Romantic tendencies in art

The conference is over. I am heading back to NYC in a few hours. I'll try to do a wrap-up of the conference in the days ahead, but I'd like to highlight a couple of presentations, because they allow me to add lovely pictures to the post.

Catriona McLeod's subject was the illustrations of German Märchen in the early 19th century. Only slowly were the Grimm brothers open to including illustrations with their tales. They were, after all, scholars, but they became convinced that they were losing a lucrative publishing opportunity, not to mention that the English had already begun publishing translations of fairy tales with their own illustrations. The brothers kept the business in the family, commissioning Ludwig Emil Grimm. The paternal Grimms monitored Ludwig Emil's drawings, which led to Christianizing the reception of the tales. For instance, in an illustration of "Red Riding Hood" (Rotkäpchen), a Bible appears on the table in the room where Grandmother lies in bed. Another instance can be observed in the lovely illustration above of the tale about the boy who is turned into a fawn. The sister and the deadly river are of course part of the original tale, but not the angel who watches over the pair. I learned a new phrase in Catriona's talk: "discursive interventions," i.e., which describes the function of frontispieces.

Spring Landscape in Rosenthal near Leipzig by C.G. Carus, 1814
Beate Allert organized a session on painting and visual aesthetics focused on Goethe, Carl Gustav Carus, and Ludwig Tieck.  Carus (1789-1869) has been described by Peter Berglar as the "geniale Polyhistor und Polypragmatiker," who was also a medical doctor and psychologist, a "Naturwissenschaftler" and philosopher, painter, aesthetician, and writer, with over 200 writings to his name. (See the Goethe-Handbuch entry on Carus by Anton Philipp Knittel.) Their shared interest in the natural world and in art led to a correspondence between Carus and Goethe in 1818. Goethe had been enthusiastic about a book by Carus on animal anatomy, and the correspondence continued for a decade, during which time Carus sent many of his paintings to Goethe. The letters suddenly stopped three years before Goethe's death. Why is uncertain. Goethe drafted a letter to Carus in late 1831, but it was not sent.

Beate suggested some differences between the two men that may have played a role. Carus had worked on the front during the Napoleonic wars, an experience that left him with many psychic wounds, but that also led to his profound interest in "das unbewusste Seelenleben," a subject about which Goethe was very cautious and that explains much about his aversion to aspects of Romanticism. Carus seems to have been "purposive" in his life, both in medicine, in which he sought to help others, and in art, the practice of which served a therapeutic function for him. Goethe was antipathetic to art serving as therapy or, indeed, for any other purpose.

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