Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Goethe in Gotha

Lucas Cranach the Elder, Christ and Mary, ca. 1516-20
This summer I wrote a review of Sigrid Damm's book on the above subject for the Goethe Yearbook. I was reminded of the book this afternoon on my visit to the Morgan Library for the exhibition Word and Image: Martin Luther's Reformation at the Morgan Library. Most of the objects in the exhibition come from collections formerly in "East Germany," which I guess is an example of the enlarging compass of the transversal world (see previous posts). Several of the most beautiful objects come from Schloss Friedenstein, including the above painting by Louis Cranach the Elder.  Goethe passed many happy hours at Friedenheim, according to Sigrid Damm's account. The exhibition at the Morgan is one of a number of exhibitions (see list here) in connection with Luther Year 2017. The focus is the "media revolution" that powered the spread of the Reformation.

Damm's book is entitled Goethes Freunde in Gotha and opens by asking us to imagine what Goethe’s life might have been like had he gone to Gotha on his return from Italy, as was rumored he might do, rather than to Weimar. Goethe had been presented at the Gotha court during Carl August’s visit at Christmas 1775, apparently to satisfy curiosity about the Werther author, but the impression he made on that visit was summed up by the duke's brother, Prince August, in a letter written at the time: “Stolz und Mißgeschick macht Goethe wild und driest.” In the succeeding three and a half years, Charlotte von Stein’s remolding appears to have made Goethe “salonfähig,” and there occurred increasingly cordial relations between Goethe and Duke Ernst II (1745–1804) and Prince August (1774–1825), later Duke Friedrich IV. The Gotha Fourierbuch documents frequent visits, during which Goethe lodged at Friedenheim castle itself, in Suites 5 and 6. As Damm writes: Goethe was “ein gern gesehener und umworbener Gast und Gesprächspartner.”

Goethe and the duke shared scientific interests, for instance, a mutual interest in geology, and Ernst would be a shareholder in the Ilmenau mine. During research for his optical studies, Goethe also had the run of the laboratories and equipment in the astronomical observatory at Gotha, built under the aegis of Ernst. In the 1809–10 publication of the Farbenlehre Goethe expressed his gratitude for the support of the duke and the prince.

Seeberg Observatory in Gotha
Because of the observatory, Gotha had a reputation as a scientific center of European rank. In 1798, Ernst organized a congress of European luminaries in Gotha that included the doyen of astronomers, Joseph Jerome de Lalande, along with “Himmelskundler” from England, Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. The only exception was Friedrich Wilhelm Herschel, who was absent, due to the tensions between France and England. Damm asks whether the congress represented “der Keim einer europaischen “Gelehrtenrepublik.” Goethe's absence indicates that he would not be part of  this particular republic of letters. The congress in any case reflected the divide between his own scientific approach and the coming mathematization of science.

In August 1801 Goethe spent eight days in Gotha, residing with Prince August. Here is the prince’s account of Goethe’s birthday celebration: “Mein Bruder bat mich soeben, zu Ehren des Herrn Goethe und des Herrn [Heinrich] Meyer ein Mittagessen zu geben. Er nahm an diesem selbst teil, ebenso seine Exzellenz und Lady Fifry. Wir waren nur sechs Personen zu Tische. Der Abend verlief in derselben Weise.” Lady Fifry refers to Friederike von Frankenberg, wife of the privy councilor Sylvius Friedrich von Frankenberg. The day afterward, the same party was guests at lunch with Lady Frifry, after viewing the duke’s paintings in his quarters.

Lucas Cranach, The Young Luther (1520)
Damm does not give any indication of the range of paintings in the duke's collection and ventures only the following concerning the viewing: “Die Gesellschaft, die durch die Räume wandert. Bei welchen Gemälden mag sie länger verweilt haben?”

Indeed, which ones? Damm in uncharacteristiscally hesitant to speculate.

I wonder what Goethe would have thought of the dual portrait of Jesus and "Mary" (perhaps Mary Magdalene). The wall label at the Morgan calls it an "ambiguous" picture, and it does seem so, as far as the face of Jesus is concerned. The woman, however, seems more in the Cranach mode, as in the painting of the young Luther (Luther Memorials Foundation of Saxony- Anhalt) portrayed by the younger Cranach.

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