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Goethe in the Roman Campagna

Goethe in the Roman Campagna is a painting from 1787 by Johann Heinrich Wilhelm Tischbein, a German Neoclassical painter, depicting Johann Wolfgang von Goethe when the writer was travelling in Italy. Goethe's book on his travels to Italy from 1786–88, called Italian Journey, was published in 1816–17; the book is based on his diaries. Since 1887, the painting has been in the possession of the Städel Museum in Goethe's hometown Frankfurt.[1][2]

Goethe in the Roman Campagna
Johann Heinrich Wilhelm Tischbein - Goethe in the Roman Campagna - Google Art Project.jpg
ArtistJohann Heinrich Wilhelm Tischbein
Mediumoil on canvas
Dimensions164 cm × 206 cm (65 in × 81 in)
LocationStädel Museum, Frankfurt


The painting is a full-length portrait. Goethe is gazing out through the landscape, with his eyes resting at infinity.[2][3] The painter, Johann Heinrich Wilhelm Tischbein, whom Goethe met in Italy, portrays the writer as an idealized, almost otherworldly, person. Goethe wears a large wide-brimmed grey hat, fashionable among German artists in Rome at the time, and a creamy white traveler's duster. He is portrayed in a classical manner, sitting in the open air, surrounded by Roman ruins, with the Campagna di Roma in the background.[4]

The artwork typically reflects the culture of the time in which it is created. The ruins in the background indicate the Neoclassicist love of antiquity. In contrast to the asymmetry of dominant Baroque and Rococo styles, Neoclassicism praised simplicity and symmetry and the classic principles of the arts of Rome and Ancient Greece.

Detail from the painting: relief scene of Iphigenia

The love of classicism bound together the two artists, who both shared this interest, which is mirrored in the painting. Et in Arcadia ego (in German: Auch ich in Arkadien!) is the motto of Goethe's Italian Journey. The artists consciously chose a spiritual collaboration to produce the painting and used the Arcadian motif of the Roman Campagna.[5]

The composition is balanced and the colours are restricted.[6][7] At the time Goethe was preoccupied with his verse drama Iphigenia in Tauris, and he recited extracts to Tischbein. He was very impressed by it and depicted the scene of Iphigenia meeting her brother in the painting, on the relief behind Goethe to his left.[2] Also, both artist shared an interest for painting. Goethe's occupation with painting resulted seven years earlier Goethe's Theory of Colours (Zur Farbenlehre) is a book about the poet's views on the nature of colours and how these are perceived by human beings. He published it in 1810, and it contained detailed descriptions of phenomena such as coloured shadows, refraction, and chromatic aberration.[8]

In 1887 the painting was donated to the Städel Museum by the private collector Adèle von Rothschild [de] (1843–1922), 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: Goethe and Schiller were elevated to national status. Tischbein's portrait became symbolic of the German high life of knowledge, art and culture. The painting is one of the highlights of the Städel collection, and is considered an icon of German national painting. It played an indisputable role in shaping the image of Goethe as he is perceived today, as embodying Germany's classical humanistic ideal.[9][10]

Goethe and TischbeinEdit

Classical painter Nicolas Poussin's Landscape with Saint John on Patmos (1640); the ruins are typical subject matter for painters in the classical style.

Goethe decided to travel to Rome to study the ancient world.[11] His choice of Rome fit entirely in the spirit of the times: many German artists were studying there at the time. The aesthetic appreciation of the antiquity was typical for classicism. The peace and serenity of the classical arts attracted them, as a counterbalance to such recent movements as the Baroque and Rococo. This was an intellectual and spiritual movement of the time, an intellectual fashion and a dominant school of thought that typified and influenced the culture of this particular period in time and that affected even Goethe and Tischbein. Goethe was also looking for a new balance and a possible inner transformation, after he had a long-standing platonic love affair with Charlotte von Stein, which resulted in the novel The Sorrows of Young Werther, that became so popular that Goethe had to travel under a pseudonym to avoid recognition. He called himself Filippo Miller, pittore. Goethe decided to make the Grand Tour since he was fascinated by classical Italy, and started his travel in September 1786. During the journey, in Rome, he met several German artists, and stayed with Tischbein with whom he had become friendly through correspondence, fixing a scholarship for the painter, through his connections - a second Rome-stipend. The Tischbeins were a family of renowned painters well-known in Germany long before Goethe himself became famous, with Johann Heinrich Wilhelm being the fourth generation of painters.[12]

The two artists' values met in the appreciation of classicism and the world of the antiquity, and they become friends. Tischbein and Goethe traveled together, made short trips in Italy and experienced adventures together. However, the intense friendship between Tischbein and Goethe would come to an end after three months. The characters of the two artists differed too greatly to allow an enduring friendship. In Naples they later separated due to their incompatible interests.[13]


  1. ^ "goethe-in-the-roman-campagna-and-its-antecedents".
  2. ^ a b c "goethe-roman-campagna-1787". Retrieved 22 July 2019.
  3. ^ "Goethe-in-the-Campagna".
  4. ^ "roman-campagna-revisited".
  5. ^ Moore, Evelyn K.; Simpson, Patricia Anne (2007). The Enlightened Eye: Goethe and Visual Culture. p. 37. ISBN 978-9042021242.
  6. ^ Hagen, Rose-Marie; Hagen, Rainer (2003). What Great Paintings Say, Volume 1. Taschen. p. 339. ISBN 978-3-8228-4790-9.
  7. ^ Bauer, Lukas (2012). "Auch ich in Arkadien? The Allure of Italy for the German traveller in Goethe's Italienische Reise, Eichendorff's Aus dem Leben eines Taugenichts and Heine's Reise von München nach Genua". PEGS: Publications of the English Goethe Society. 91 (3): 178–194. Retrieved 22 July 2019 – via University of Wollongong.
  8. ^ "Goethe's Color Theory". Retrieved 22 July 2019.
  9. ^ Bisanz, Rudolf M. (1988). "The Birth of a Myth: Tischbein's Goethe in the Roman Campagna". Monatshefte. University of Wisconsin Press. 80 (2): 187–199. JSTOR 30153075.
  10. ^ "Goethe in the Roman Campagna". 2011-05-13.
  11. ^ "Goethe".
  12. ^ "Goethe in the Roman Campagna". 2011-05-13.
  13. ^ Giardino Giusti di Verona e Storia dell'Arte giardino all'italiana by Paolo Villa, Accademia delle Belle Arti di Bologna, 1993-94, Eleonora Frattarolo e Fabia Farneti, editors[page needed]

Further readingEdit