Thursday, February 5, 2009

Before photography and rather than the expensive oil portrait--there was the Silhouette

This is Goethe in front of his house (given to him by the Duke) in Weimar. In the background, to the left, is the house of the Duke and Duchess,
next to it is the house of Charlotte von Stein, and the structure to the right is the house of Goethe. This would date the silhouette to later than 1782, the year he moved in.

Goethe's house is still standing today, with his own original carriage in the garage. It is now a museum. A lovely garden graces the back of the house.

The silhouette just below is Charlotte von Stein's family (von Schardt) enjoying a game of chess. Her father stands behind her mother, who is playing the game with her brother. Note the formality. Eventually the confines of this world motivated Goethe to finally take off on his two year trip to Italy.

Charlotte von Stein. (1742-1827)

Charlotte endured very difficult times immediately after the Napoleonic conquest of Germany in the Battle of Jena in October of 1806. French troops went rampaging through the town of Weimar, pillaging and plundering. Charlotte was left with not much more than her pet birdies. Goethe, on the other hand, who was also at home, utilized his close connection to Napoleon (they had met in Erfurt), and French troops entered his house, but he was spared any plundering. Connections! How little has changed it seems.

From a letter describing von Stein: "Frau Kammerherrin, Stallmeisterin und Baronesse von Stein aus Weimar; Sie hat ueberaus grosse schwarze Augen von der hoechsten Schoenheit. Ihre Wangen sind sehr rot, ihre Haare ganz schwarz, ihre Haut italienisch wie ihre Augen. Ker Koerper mager. Ihre Stimme ist sanft and bedrueckt. Ernst, Sanftmut, Gefaelligkeit, leidende Tugend und feine, tiefgegruendete Empfindsamkeit sieht jeder Mensch beim ersten Anblick aus ihrem Gesichte."

Goethe left on his trip to Italy (1786) in a very secretive manner; while taking a 'cure' in the same time and place as Charlotte, he left before daylight without telling anybody. Charlotte was not only hurt and shocked, but humiliated. They corresponded, but the 'relationship' never resumed the same level of intimacy as once existed, and was finished when Goethe returned (two years later) and within months took a young lover, whom he did not marry until 1806 (in the middle of the Battle of Jena). The entire train of events set off a non-ending, bone-rattling scandal.

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