|Philipp Hackert, Feuerwerk auf der Engelsburg in Rom, 1775|
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|
|Richard Payne Knight, a libertine?|
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