Same as FINH-GA3035.001 and COLIT-GA2610.002
4 credits / W 3:30 – 6:10 pm
Over the course of Goethe’s lifetime, German writers and thinkers entered for the first time a
Europe-wide conversation about the normativity of the sculpture of ancient Greece and Rome,
the emergence of a secular discourse of art in the Italian Renaissance, the comparative
capacities of painting and poetry, and the place of art and artist in modern society. The visual
arts, transcending language, hosted an international “culture of art” standing alongside the
Latin-based “republic of letters.” The history of art, as reconstructed by antiquarians and
scholars, pictured the mythic continuity of European civilization, and allowed Europe to define
itself against its perceived others. Modern painting and sculpture made visible the secular drift
of modern society. Academies of art cultivated normative, idealist theories of art.
Goethe himself was one of the first to challenge the principles of the ancien régime of art. His
pamphlet on Strasbourg Cathedral (1772) drew medieval architecture back into the story of art.
The next generation developed poetic and critical languages to address the forms excluded by
the academic system. Refugees from the art academies—the so-called Nazarenes were
pioneers—sought to repristinate the art of painting. Meanwhile, the social and political
upheavals triggered by the French Revolution invited realignments of art and public. In Bavaria
and Prussia, statesmen, artists, and scholars invented the national museums of the future. The
generation born around 1770 cultivated an aesthetics of sketches and ruins; narrated the
exceptional lives of artists real and imagined; and practiced an urbane and subjective but also
philosophical art criticism. This was the Kunstperiode, the “period of art,” the decades animated by the “idea of art”; an epoch whose end was pronounced by the poet Heinrich Heine in 1828.
In this course we will read texts in the fields of aesthetics, archeology, art history, and art
criticism, but also track the apparitions of the visual arts in prose fiction (Heinse, Goethe, Tieck,
Brentano, Arnim). The questions addressed by the course have generated important recent
scholarship in the field of German studies (Campe, Décultot, Dönike, Endres, Geulen,
Haverkamp, MacLeod, Menke, Mülder-Bach, Wellbery).
At the core of the seminar is the question of form: which concept of form would succeed the
metaphysically guaranteed or ideal form of the ancien régime? the inner or archetypal form
intuited by Goethe in created nature, underwriting coherence and continuity across change; or
the incomplete and elusive forms generated by the imagination and captured, at best, by a
poetics of the fragment as proposed by Friedrich Schlegel and Novalis.
Among texts to be discussed: J. J. Winckelmann, Gedanken über die Nachahmung der Griechischen Werke, and Geschichte der Kunst des Altertums; G. E. Lessing, Laokoon; J. W. von
Goethe, Von deutscher Baukunst, and various essays from his journals Propylaën and Kunst und
Alterthum; W. H. Wackenroder and L. Tieck, Herzensergießungen eines kunstliebenden
Klosterbruders and Tieck, Franz Sternbalds Wanderungen; texts by Ph. O. Runge and C. D.
Friedrich; texts by F. and A. W. Schlegel.
The texts will be read ideally in their original language. However, virtually all of the texts are
available in translation, thus the course is also open to interested students who do not have
German. Conducted in English.