This painting was made by the German painter Johann Heinrich Wilhelm Tischbein who portrayed his compatriot, the writer Goethe when he made his trip to Italy, the so-called Grand Tour, at the age of 37.
Goethe in the Roman countryside by Tischbein
Since the mid-eighteenth century it became fashionable for all the aristocrats of Europe to undertake a long journey to Italian lands to see the places that were considered the cradle of our civilization and art. And although many of these potentates also took this trip above all as a most hedonistic experience, there were other characters who were really eager to discover all the Italian culture and heritage.
Of course one of those characters was the writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, author of such emblematic works as Faust orThe Misadventures of Young Werther. Stories that make him the greatest exponent of German Romanticism and one of the best writers in the German language in all of history.
The painter Tischbein made this portrait of him in 1787, and we see him stopping along the way during his walk around the Via Appia of Rome. The writer has made a stop, has sat down and contemplates this panorama full of history and classical elements, something that the painter marks with the presence of ruins in thebackground or the ruined reliefs and capitals seen in the foreground. In fact, Goethe is sitting on some large square ashlars that would be archaeological remains of some ancient building. So sitting on them has a symbolic value, as indicating that they are the support for his art.
Nothing in the image is accidental, in fact the painter and writer made it in Italy and studied it before executing it. The two had met in Rome during Goethe's trip, since Tischbein lived in Italy as the director of the Academy of Naples. And together they visited the Roman and Neapolitan surroundings, discovering all those places and chatting a lot about artistic and philosophical questions.
The truth is that Goethe greatly influenced the painter's thinking, which is why a tone of admiration towards the writer can be deduced from the image. He presents us relaxed, with a refined pose typical of his high sensitivity. We see him reflective, contemplative before the greatness of the story, and who knows, perhaps imagining his next work.
In fact, next to the poet there is a relief in which several classical characters such as Iphigenia, Orestes and Pilades can be identified. Well, while it was painted on this canvas, he was writing his workIphigenia in Tauris
Tischbein's canvas is currently on display at the Stadelsches Kunstinstitut in Frankfurt in Germany.