Friday, January 27, 2017

Goethe and green 2

Comment on doit chasser et prendre le loup (Paris, BnF, ms. fr. 616, f.55)
I am closing up the subject of Michel Pastoureau's wonderful volumes on the history of various colors (see previous posts), but would like to add a few more comments about Goethe and green, especially as Pastoureau refers frequently to Goethe throughout the volumes.

As I wrote in the last post, green was a color that was late in coming in social codes in the West, but, when it finally became prominent in the 12th and 13th centuries, it was a color associated with huntsmen and their valets. Pastoureau includes a wonderful image from an illuminated manuscript of the Livre de la chasse, ca. 1410, by Gaston Phoebus (Paris, BnF, ms. fr. 616). Pastoureau discusses the green knights of the Middle Ages, who participate in "disturbing nocturnal episodes in which the dead hunt side by side with the living, and infernal creatures with men who have committed grave sins or signed pacts with the Devil." The sources of these nocturnal hunts probably derives, he writes, from Germanic mythologies.

Goethe's poem "Der Erlk├Ânig," writes Pastoureau, is an echo of these dreamlike hunts, which were accompanied by howling dogs. The appearance of the participants, dressed in black or green and hunting obscure game, "was terrifying and the din they caused unbearable." Indeed, it was the duty of the huntsman to make noise in the forest, make his dogs howl, his horses whinny, his hunting horn ring. As illustrated in Livre de la chasse, green is "a color simultaneously enticing and disturbing," qualities certainly evoked in Goethe's poem.

Pastoureau also notes the gradual ascendance of green among the bourgeoisie in the 19th century, which can be seen in Goethe's Treatise on Color. Pastoureau writes that Goethe associated each color with a social category, making green the color of the bourgeois and merchants, and notes that Goethe's treatise had an influence on dress and fashions in Germany "before being roundly rejected in the second half of the 19th century. Further, "Goethe sees green as a soothing color and recommends its use for decorating places of rest and conviviality. In his home in Weimar, his bedroom had dark green hangings." Pastoureau seems to be taken by what Dr. Vogel reported to be Goethe's last words -- "Mehr Licht!" -- although it has been pointed out that Vogel was not actually in the room when Goethe died.

No comments: