Johann Heinrich Wilhelm Tischbein - Goethe in the Campagna

by Alexandra Tuschka


Only a short time after they first met in Italy, Goethe sat for Tischbein. The two men met when Goethe, using a pseudonym to avoid being recognized, stayed with Tischbein and two other painters during his trip to Italy. The latter came from a family of painters and made the obligatory visit to Italy for study purposes. 

The picture measures 164 x 206 cm and shows the young poet slightly larger than life wrapped in a traveling coat. He has made himself comfortable in the open air. Some debris can be seen. Preliminary studies are preserved and testify that this must be the debris from an obelisk. Other references to antiquity can be found - such as the relief with Iphigenia and Orest, which is clearly visible in the background. This, of course, alludes to the work "Iphigenie auf Taurus", on which Goethe was working at the time. Behind him we see the vast landscapes of the Roman Campagna, where both men are shown to have made excursions together. Here we see the staging of Goethe the thinker, pondering the fate of the world. He is a man between two epochs, the - highly respected - antiquity and the present. Goethe's literary orientation is dedicated to the renewal of the classical. 


The work shows anatomical carelessness, so that many viewers have wondered whether Goethe has two left feet. This may be due to the fact that the work was created in two stages, and may not have been completed by Tischbein himself. The latter had to leave Italy, leaving the work undated and unsigned. 


The work has decisively shaped our image of the great German poet and was subsequently also frequently cited by other artists. 


Johann Heinrich Wilhelm Tischbein - Goethe in the Campagna

Oil on canvas, 1787, 164 x 204 cm, Städel in Frankfurt

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