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Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Walking in Goethe's footsteps: home in Rome series part 1

A famous but rather odd painting of Goethe amid the Roman
ruins - it's in Casa di Goethe.  Goethe thought it was
a good likeness.
Goethe’s sojourn in Rome made him a changed man, according to Goethe himself. The greatest of German writers (e.g. Faust) and polymath, Goethe literally fled to Rome and went from being a depressive German (apologies to Bill) to an emotional expat. Some say it was because he had sex for the first time in Rome (per no less than WH Auden, writing that Goethe's diary “is that of a man who has known sexual satisfaction”).  And this is after Goethe wrote The Sorrows of Young Werther – from whose fame in part he was fleeing. We like to think it was Rome itself that brought joy to Goethe, and that’s the way his diary reads.

Goethe looking out the window of the casa.
You can put yourself here;  the window is identified at the house
Goethe called 3 September when he arrived in Rome “the birthday of my new life.”

You can step in Goethe’s steps, look out his window, and feel his presence (with some effort on your part) in the “Casa di Goethe” – or Goethe’s home – in the center of Rome, via del Corso 18 – a few steps from Piazza del Popolo.

The good news about the well-organized Germans is that the “home” is well managed and maintained, with very good temporary exhibitions, as well as some permanent ones.  But well-maintained also means it is rather soul-less, and feels like the 21st century, not the 18th. That’s why it takes some effort to be transported back to Goethe’s time.  As Goethe said in the 1700s, “What the barbarians left, the builders of Modern Rome have destroyed.”  [The best version of that line plays on the name of the fabulously rich Roman family, the Barberini - what the barbarians ("barbari") didn't destroy, the Barberini did.]  One can imagine what Goethe would think now.  One really has to stretch one’s imagination to see the “delightful view of our garden and of neighbouring gardens in all directions, for our house stood on a corner.”

The exterior of Goethe's house on via del Corso
You can check out the hours, exhibitions, and some of the holdings of the “home” at the website – in English. A visit used to be free, then was Euro 2 and now is Euro 4 – but still worth it, in our opinion.

It’s worth it because Rome so moved Goethe, much like it does us. Of course, he did some things we haven’t – he visited the upper galleries of the Sistine Chapel (tho’ have to admit, we were high up on the scaffolding when Michelangelo's Last Judgment there was being restored), ate meals there and napped on the papal throne; climbed Trajan’s Column; bathed in the Tiber (“from a well-appointed and safe bathing machine”!).

Here’s what he says in his diary:

“Now, at last, I have arrived in the First City of the world!...All the dreams of my youth have come to life….In other places one has to search for the important points of interest; here they crowd in on one in profusion.”

St. Peter’s: “has made me realize that Art, like Nature, can abolish all standards of measurement.”

And on visiting the Sistine Chapel: “At present I am so enthusiastic about Michelangelo that I have lost all my taste for Nature, since I cannot see her with the eye of genius as he did.”

On the Coliseum at twilight: ”Once one has seen it, everything else seems small. It is so huge that the mind cannot retain its image; one remembers it is smaller than it is, so that every time one returns ito it, one is astonished by its size.”

And that’s just a bit of his writings that sang to us. For more, read his Italian Journey. Plus we’ll quote from him here and there in future posts. If you’re not too well-informed about Goethe, Wikipedia does a decent job of explaining this incredible mind and person.


Note: We’re calling this “home series, part 1” because we will feature in short order, 2 other homes you can visit – Pirandello’s and DeChirico’s.

Evidence that the painting of Goethe is iconic.
Added by Bill

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