The only German museum outside of Germany remembers the famous poet, who spent some time here to take a break from his life in Weimar. His Italy visit has become symbolic for the German’s love of Italy.
The Goethe House "Casa di Goethe" was opened in 1997 in Rome. The small museum, which is well worth a visit, is located in the former apartment of the famous German poet. It aims to offer a lively forum for visitors, artists and Goethe-experts. The main focus is on Goethe’s Italian travels and how it influenced his work.
Goethe painted by Tischbein
Over the centuries many guests stayed at Palazzo Via del Corso 18, which is where you’ll find the Goethe House, Paul Heyse among them. He was the first German author to be given the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1910.
Taking a break from it all
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) didn’t inform his friends or the Weimar Court when he set out in the middle of the night from the spa town of Carlsbad and headed to Italy. He was prepared to take on the burdensome trek across the Alps in order to reach Rome. Here he sought a change to his life and wanted to enrich it with lightness, exuberance and sensuality. He traveled using a pseudonym. On his way he stayed only briefly in places packed with art, not allowing any time to really take in any of it, like for instance Florence which would later become a tourist metropolis.
On October 29th, 1786 he eventually arrived in Rome, the place he so longed to see. He lived together with painter Johann Wilhelm Tischbein in a shared artist’s house in the old town center. Today the apartment in the Via del Corso is a museum, the Casa di Goethe (English: Goethe House). Financed by the German Ministry for Arts and Culture, it is the only German museum outside of Germany. On October 30th it will celebrate its 20th anniversary.
The poet’s room faced a quiet backstreet. In the corner where once his bed stood you’ll today find a drawing by Tischbein, which hints at Goethe’s liaisons. “That darn second pillow” is written, like in a comic book, right across the picture. The picture shows Goethe with his slippers next to the bed and a pillow in one hand. Whether he is just laying his lover into bed or helping them get up is not clear. Next to him a bust of the ancient Roman goddess Juno looks strictly on. This bust by the way can still be seen in Goethe’s room. A cat is lying in front of the bed and staring out with black eyes at anyone looking at the drawing.
Goethe, on his two year long Italian tour was escaping a life crisis, the restrictions of the Weimar Court and his relationship with Charlotte von Stein. In Rome he took painting and drawing instructions from Tischbein. “Under his supervision I’ve been revived and I wholeheartedly enjoy the pleasure of discussing objects with him, as well as observing and admiring nature and art”, Goethe wrote in Rome to the Weimar Duke Carl August. He added that wise and good Tischbein had become “indispensable” to him.
On their joint excursions Tischbein made sketches for his famous painting "Goethe in the Campagna", which today is on display in the Städel Museum in Frankfurt. It depicts the poet on ruins in the middle an idyllic landscape. Tischbein once wrote that he wanted to create the painting in life-size depicting the poet as: “he considers the destiny of humankind”. What is obvious is that both painter and poet must have enjoyed these excursions in Rome.
A drawing depicting the poet as he muses at his window is today on display in the Casa di Goethe right next to the window in the picture in the artist’s apartment. The window shutters are still the same as is the colorfully painted wooden ceiling, which the poet would have looked at whenever he woke up.
Around the corner from Goethe’s apartment, not far from the Spanish Steps, you can, to this day, still find the Caffè Greco, which was founded in 1760. This is where Goethe used to meet with other Germans living in Rome, many artists among them. The poet enjoyed the Bohemian atmosphere, while living to the full the artistic lifestyle according to the head of the Casa di Goethe, Maria Gazzetti. “You could almost say he allowed himself a long sabbatical while he dropped out of his ministerial responsibilities in Weimar.”
Traveling in Goethe’s footsteps
Goethe fulfilled his dream of a lifetime from 1786 until 1788. His notes from this period would 25 years later be transformed into a bestselling travel journal, covering two volumes, with the title “Italian Journey”. To this day tourists try to follow his route through Italy.
is/ks/sbc/Bettina Gabbe (dpa)