A moment ago the gaze could wander through a portrait gallery in which Johann Joachim Winckelmann looks down at the viewer. In the middle of the room, on a round console, lies one of those friendship tins that immigrated to reality from the novel “A Sentimental Journey” by the Englishman Lawrence Sterne and, as Lorenzo tins, were part of the fashion of sensibility in the late 18th century. The writer and salon lady Sophie von la Roche, who is also in the room, may have owned such a can, or her daughter Maximiliane, whose black eyes Goethe incorporated into the physiognomy of Lotte in the “Werther” and those of the Frankfurt merchant Peter Anton Brentano got married. Maximiliane was the mother of Clemens and Bettina Brentano, who married the romantic landowner Achim von Arnim. These portraits, some in pastel, go well with the Lorenzo tin. But then, a few steps further, there is pure horror. The Nachtmahr by the Swiss painter Johann Heinrich Füssli knows no friendly smile, the horse’s head has button-like light headlights instead of eyes, and the pale, stretched figure looks as if it is dreaming of Bela Lugosi or another film vampire.
When it was a good decade ago in Frankfurt am Main to fill an emerging void with a suggestive idea, Anne Bohnenkamp, who had been director of the Frankfurt Goethemuseum and its sponsoring institution, the Free German Hochstift, had enough presence of mind and imagination to propose the establishment of a German Romantic Museum. It hasn’t happened before, and the idea might sound a bit presumptuous. But it was covered by the collection of the Free German Hochstift and by the basic concept with which it was associated from the beginning: to transform the spatial proximity into a vivid context in which the romanticism, instead of appearing as an adversary of the arch-classic Goethe, in the Relationship network together with him, in the replay of mutual attraction and repulsion, makes an epoch.
It’s not just about literature, it’s about the interplay of the arts
Now that the German Romantic Museum opens a gate to the public on Tuesday, this basic concept is immediately visible on the first floor. It houses the “Goethe-Galerie”, which has been moved out of the neighboring house and is more extensively stocked from magazines. One of Anne Bohnenkamp’s predecessors, Ernst Beutler, had built it up with energy since the 1920s; all of the pictures in it have a reference to Goethe. Your chronological vanishing point in this new presentation is Goethe’s trip to Italy, which takes place shortly before the French Revolution. Close to Johann Philipp Hackert’s views of Italy and to the educational experience of antiquity, which takes shape in a cast of the Juno bust, the guitar that Marianne von Willemer had made in Naples on a journey she is on hangs on the wall Made traces of Goethe before they met.
Even more than before, this picture gallery invites you to be seen in its romantic echo rooms. Goethe had an increasingly ambivalent relationship to Füssli’s pictures. But the vortex of air, which includes Füssli’s “Wahnsinnige Kate” regardless of the physical laws of motion of the wind, bridges the gap between the stormy Ossian mythology in Goethe’s “Werther” and the romantic unleashing of the elements.
The picture gallery is not just a transition, a luminous passage between the Goethe House and the Romantic Museum. At the same time, it sets the mood for the actual Romanticism exhibition on the two upper floors. It makes it unmistakably clear that this is not just about writing, literature, texts, but about the interplay of the arts. Robert Schumann’s musical manuscript for his “Faustszenen”, acquired only a few years ago, can be seen – and the music can be heard. ETA Hoffmann will declare Beethoven to be the epitome of the romantic artist in the review of his fifth symphony.
When looking for the blue flower, anyone who comes across the first page of the novel manuscript, on which Novalis used the original title “Heinrich von Afterdingen”, can have the “Moonlight Sonata” played on the soundtrack of the exhibition. And if you bend over Sophie Mereau’s “Sonnet on an Unnamed Bust of Tieck” from 1805, you can make sure by looking at the bust placed in an artificial niche, which comes from Friedrich Tieck, the brother of the poet Ludwig Tieck, that the unnamed is Clemens Brentano, with whom Sophie Mereau was married. A light falls on the bust from somewhere, so that it casts a shadow that is reminiscent of the black silhouettes of the era.
The Free German Hochstift has part of the estates of Novalis and the Schlegel brothers, Ludwig Tieck and Joseph von Eichendorff, as well as the estates of Clemens Brentano and his sister Bettina, their grandmother Sophie von la Roche and Karoline von Günderrode, who died in 1806 took his life of 26 years. Fortunately, the curators have resisted the temptation to expand these rich collections in encyclopedic abundance. But they rely on these holdings and have developed a German Romantic Museum based on them, which renounces the pretense of being a national central museum, to which all local, individual figures or constellations of museums dedicated to Romanticism would have to contribute permanent loans. Instead, the most important motifs, locations and figures of Romanticism are scrolled through in 35 stations within the framework of a loose chronology, each around an original document from the company’s own holdings.
Petra Eichler and Susanne Kessler developed the exhibition architecture and the design of the course in collaboration with Anne Bohnenkamp and her team. From the rather bright rooms of the picture gallery, they lead visitors over the blue staircase to the inner world of romanticism. They are darkened not least for pragmatic, conservation reasons. The walk to the objects leads through a grove of steles in which a small anthology on the concept of romanticism lights up, in German and English. A key phrase comes from the omnipresent, demonic and outrageous house spirit of the bishopric, Clemens Brentano: “The romantic is therefore a perspective or rather the color of the glass and the determination of the object by the shape of the glass.” The exhibition follows this not only in its lighting direction, but also in its tendency to stage perceptual constellations, for example in view of the “color circle” that Goethe drew and the color ball that Philipp Otto Runge designed as a harmony lesson for painters.
“The world needs to be romanticized.”
The most important element of the exhibition architecture is the furniture specially developed for you. It is made of high-quality wood and replaces the glass cabinets with the appearance of a strange mixture of desk and cupboard. Only when the beveled cover of a desk in which a sensitive original rests is opened is it surrounded by soft light. An invisible registry measures how long. Light coming from outside and bundled in turn helps to balance the legibility and protection of the objects. Unfolding opens the auratic center of each station, the original, the media staging that surrounds it is its translation, as a transcription that reads a handwriting, as an audio station that makes an autograph or printed work audible, as a painting that Shows people of whom we are talking, as in “Faith and Love” by Novalis the Prussian ruling couple Friedrich Wilhelm III. and Queen Luise.
At the same time, a font installation shows that the program “The world must be romanticized” not only includes this cult of rulers, but also the slogan “All people should be able to sit on the throne”. Like Brentano’s perspective, the formula of the romanticization of the world is a leitmotif of the exhibition. With Johann Wilhelm Ritter it leads to romantic science as a link between salon and experimental physics. One station shows the remains of the battery built by Ritter from the Deutsches Museum in Munich. An interactive installation demonstrates the experiments on “animal electricity” with which he tried to prove galvanism as a general principle of life.
Turning the furniture into a kind of thing symbol and leitmotif of the exhibition architecture was a good idea. Because romance maintains excellent and cryptic relationships with the interior. This is accommodated by the drawers reminiscent of secret compartments, which provide the leading exhibit at each station with “footnotes” that do not necessarily have to consist of writing. They match the intimacy of the romantic letter culture, but also its charge with reflective, poetological energies, as in the correspondence between Clemens Brentano and Caroline von Günderrode. Romanticism does not remain apolitical. The vanishing point of the first part of the exhibition is the opposite of the “Children and Household Tales” of the Brothers Grimm and the politicization of the concept of the people during the anti-Napoleonic wars of freedom. The anti-Semitism of the “Deutsche Tischgesellschaft” (German Table Society) in Berlin from 1811 onwards, to which Clemens Brentano and Achim von Arnim contributed, is also documented rather discreetly, but noticeably.
The second floor of the exhibition shows the expansion of Romanticism into Europe, for example through August Wilhelm Schlegel and Madame de Stael to France, and at the same time the romantic import of literature through translation, as whose theoretician Friedrich Schleiermacher appears. As a critical companion, Heinrich Heine appears on small folding boards with his comments on the Romantic School. Postcards with portraits and short biographies can be taken with you; the course clearly aims to appear not as a compulsory workload, but as an offer and invitation that can be perceived according to one’s own time and interest budget.
You can spend hours, but also days in this romantic universe, which leads to Wilhelm Müller’s and Schubert’s “Winter Journey”, to Ludwig Tieck’s late novellas and to Paulskirche. The Romantic Gallery, which replies to the “Goethe Gallery” on the upper floor with paintings by Caspar David Friedrich, Carl Gustav Carus and Johan Christian Dahl, invites you to linger a while. And Füssli’s “Nachtmahr” appears as a memory in view of Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein” and the vampires around 1830. The fact that the “magic words” of Romanticism do not fall from the sky, but rather arise in the process of creating texts, is shown by Eichendorff’s drafts of poems. In the presentation of the first version of the “good-for-nothing” she also does not forget to mention that Eichendorff was a civil servant.
Your most important media installation is a large table showing a map and containing a large amount of data. Here, the places and characters of Romanticism can be linked with their chronology: who was where, when and for how long? In Jena, Heidelberg, Berlin, Paris, Vienna. And when someone like Adelbert von Chamisso circumnavigates the world, a map of the world is displayed. The first temporary exhibition, a pure media installation, is dedicated to European Romanticism in the basement. It can tie in with the stations in which Byron replies to Goethe’s “Faust” and Goethe in “Faust II” replies to Byron and Delacroix appears as Faust illustrator. This permanent exhibition brings the “German Romantic Museum” closer to the international meaning of the term “Romanticism”, which has always included Goethe, Hölderlin, Kleist and the Romantics. If you don’t visit them, you miss a lot.