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“Goethe in the Roman Campagna” by Johann Heinrich Wilhelm Tischbein

“Goethe in the Roman Campagna” by Johann Heinrich Wilhelm Tischbein

“Goethe in the Roman Campagna”

by Tischbein

“Goethe in the Roman Campagna” by Johann Heinrich Wilhelm Tischbein depicts Johann Wolfgang von Goethe while the writer was travelling in Italy. The painting is a full-length portrait of Goethe who is shown gazing out to the distance. Goethe wears a large wide-brimmed grey hat, fashionable among German artists in Rome at the time, and a creamy white traveller’s loose-fitting long coat. He is portrayed in a classical idealised manner, sitting in the open air, almost otherworldly, surrounded by Roman ruins, with the Campagna di Roma in the background.

The portrait reflects the culture and interests of the time. The ruins in the background symbolise the Neoclassicist love of antiquity. Goethe, travelled to Rome to experience its history. As had many German artists who were studying there at the time, immersed in the Neoclassicist’s love of classical antiquity. This was an intellectual and spiritual movement of the time that influenced the culture, and that affected Goethe and Tischbein.

Goethe’s novel “The Sorrows of Young Werther” has become so popular, that at this time, that he had to travel under a pseudonym to avoid recognition. Goethe’s Grand Tour started in 1786. During the journey, in Rome, he met several German artists and stayed with Tischbein with whom he had become friendly through correspondence. The Tischbeins were a family of renowned painters well-known in Germany long before Goethe himself became famous. Goethe’s book on his travels to Italy from 1786–88, was called “Italian Journey” and were published in 1816–17.

In 1887 this painting was donated to the Städel museum, at a time when the Goethe cult was at its peak. The new German Empire was looking for significant cultural icons that could form a collective past and Goethe was one who was elevated to national status. This portrait became symbolic of the German high point of knowledge, art and culture. The painting is considered an icon of German national painting. It has played a crucial role in shaping the image of Goethe, as embodying Germany’s classical humanistic ideal.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749 – 1832) was a German writer and statesman. His works include novels, poetry, dramas, memoirs, an autobiography, literary and aesthetic criticism and treatises on scientific subjects. Besides, numerous literary and scientific fragments, more than 10,000 letters, and nearly 3,000 drawings by him have survived.

Goethe had a significant effect on the nineteenth century. In many respects, he was the originator of many ideas which later became widespread. His non-fiction writings, most of which are philosophic spurred the development of many thinkers. Goethe was also a cultural force. During his first meeting with Napoleon in 1808, the two discussed politics, the writings of Voltaire, and Goethe’s Sorrows of Young Werther, which Napoleon had read seven times and ranked among his favourites. Goethe always spoke of Napoleon with the greatest respect, confessing that “nothing higher and more pleasing could have happened to me in all my life” than to have met Napoleon in person.

It was to a considerable degree due to Goethe’s reputation that the city of Weimar was chosen in 1919 as the venue for the national assembly, convened to draft a new constitution for what would become known as Germany’s Weimar Republic. Goethe became an essential reference for Thomas Mann in his speeches and essays defending the republic.

Goethe’s ideas on evolution would frame the question that Darwin and Wallace would approach within the scientific paradigm. Nikola Tesla was heavily influenced by Goethe’s Faust, his favourite poem, and had memorised the entire text. It was while reciting a particular verse that he was struck with the epiphany that would lead to the idea of the rotating magnetic field and ultimately, alternating current.

Roman Campagna

The Roman Campagna is a low-lying area surrounding Rome in central Italy. The rustic beauty of the Campagna inspired the painters who flocked to Rome in the 18th and 19th centuries. During that time, the Campagna became the most painted landscape in Europe. An excursion into the Roman countryside was an essential part of the Grand Tour.

The region was reclaimed in the 19th and 20th centuries for new settlements. Starting in the 1950s, the expansion of Rome overtook large parts of the Campagna, all around the city. The only continuous green area where the natural resources of the region were saved from overbuilding is along the Appian Way.

Johann Heinrich Wilhelm Tischbein

Johann Heinrich Wilhelm Tischbein (1751 – 1829), was a German Neoclassical painter from a family of artists. In 1783, he was able to return to Rome with a grant from Duke Ernest II, obtained upon the recommendation of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. He remained in Italy until 1799 and became friends with Goethe, travelling with him to Naples in 1787. During his last ten years there, he was the director of the Accademia di Belle Arti di Napoli. He left following the French occupation.

Reflections

  • Why is this one of Germany’s favourite paintings?

Goethe in the Roman Campagna

  • Title:                  Goethe in the Roman Campagna
  • Artist:                 Johann Heinrich Wilhelm Tischbein
  • Year:                  1787
  • Material:            oil on panel
  • Dimensions:      Height: 164 cm (64.5 ″); Width: 206 cm (81.1 ″)
  • Museum:            Städel Museum

Johann Heinrich Wilhelm Tischbein

  • Name:               Johann Heinrich Wilhelm Tischbein
  • Known as:         Goethe Tischbein
  • Born:                1751 in Haina, Germany
  • Died:                1829 in Eutin
  • Nationality:      German
  • Notable works:

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German Proverbs and Quotes

Goethe Quotes

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“Knowing is not enough; we must apply.”

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“Willing is not enough; we must do.”

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“Few people have the imagination for reality.”

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“Whatever you can do or dream, you can begin it.”

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“Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it.”

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“The soul that sees beauty may sometimes walk alone.”

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“Nothing is worth more than this day.”

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“None are more hopelessly enslaved than those who falsely believe they are free.”

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“Every day we should hear at least one little song, read one good poem, see one exquisite picture, and, if possible, speak a few sensible words.”

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“Magic is believing in yourself; if you can do that, you can make anything happen.”

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“I call architecture frozen music.”

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“As soon as you trust yourself, you will know how to live.”

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“Knowing is not enough; we must apply.” 
– Goethe

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Photo Credit: Johann Heinrich Wilhelm Tischbein [Public domain]

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