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

No comments: