Johann Wolfgang Goethe first met the pedagogical Swiss painter Johann Heinrich Meyer (1760–1832) while looking at pictures in the Quirinal Palace in Rome in 1786. He would rely on his new friend’s encyclopedic knowledge of art for the next four decades, and when Meyer moved to Weimar in 1791, Goethe called upon his various talents for numerous projects, both private and professional. Meyer supervised the classical renovations to Goethe’s house am Frauenplan and painted ceilings in the palace of Duke Carl August. As director of Weimar’s drawing school he provided student illustrators for Goethe’s scientific studies, and as a member of the Weimarischen Kunstfreunde he helped decide annual art prizes, even exhibiting his own painting as encouragement. As theater enthusiast he designed costumes and sets for Goethe’s plays; as art connoisseur he advised Goethe on collecting engravings. As a contributor to Goethe’s [End Page 267] Propyläen he ventured into classical aesthetic debates. Finally, as art historian and eventual editor of Winckelmann’s complete works, he redirected this classicist zeal into scholarly projects, assessing the state of an art history that had surpassed its master in knowledge and accuracy.
One gathers many of these facts from reading the essays edited by Barbara Naumann and Margrit Wyder, which stem from two conferences and an exhibition curated by Wyder in 2010 in the Literaturmuseum Strauhof in Zurich, which was devoted to Meyer on the occasion of his 250th birthday. Although at least half of the essays focus in different ways on Goethe’s collaborations with Meyer, others investigate the larger question to which these encounters point, namely the self-conscious intermediality of Goethe’s work in general. The contributors have training in a number of disciplines, from Germanistik to comparative literature, from art history to musicology. The title of the book stems from Goethe’s essay on Winckelmann (describing how the discovery of Pompeii had set classical studies into exhilarating motion), and indeed, Winckelmann emerges as a third important touchstone, a visionary Columbus who intuited rather than discovered the new world of classical art that both Goethe and Meyer inhabited.
Winckelmann’s vision informed the project of Weimar classicism and is a focus of a number of essays in the book. Two in particular deal with Propyläen, classicism’s journalistic mouthpiece. Edith Anna Kunz shows a disjunction between the short-lived journal’s classical aesthetic ideals and its fragmentary, experimental texts. Dominik Müller reinforces this thesis by emphasizing the “Meinungspluralismus” (57) of the three fictional interlocutors in Der Sammler und die Seinigen. Wyder’s art historical essay focuses on Meyer’s painting of Oedipus solving the riddle of the Sphinx. Goethe advised Meyer and urged him to capture in the painting the actual solution to the riddle, proposing a seemingly impossible task that Wyder argues uncovers the “Darstellungs-Defizit der bildenden Kunst” (104). Along with Meyer as artist, two other new portraits of him emerge in essays by Martin Dönike and Johannes Grave. The first considers Meyer as classical historian and, specifically, tireless editor of Winckelmann’s collected works. Meyer the art lover, through years spent footnoting and amending, partakes in the emergence of a science of art, Kunstwissenschaft. Grave’s article examines the unpublished manuscript Meyer wrote in 1830, “Kurze Geschichte der Kupferstecherkunst,” in the context of Goethe’s lifelong dependence on graphic reproductions for his study of art and his late-life appreciation of their artistic, as well as reproductive, qualities. Like Robin Rehm’s essay on Goethe and Philipp Otto Runge’s “Foliotafel” (224) of color blocks intended for visual experiments, Grave’s essay illustrates the tension between the scientific and the artistic in many of Goethe’s interests.
A number of essays focus on Goethe’s involvement in music, a field that has recently received new attention and that a number of critics use as an illustration of intermediality. Indeed, Philipp Otto Runge relied on acoustic principles when he tried (with Goethe’s encouragement) to discover the principle of harmonic...