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

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