Wilhelm Schlegel’s inclination to needle Johann Gottfried Schadow because of the latter’s treatment of Friedrich Tieck comes to expression in his essay on the Berlin art exhibition of 1802, “Ueber die berlinische Kunstausstellung von 1802,” Zeitung für die elegante Welt (1803), nos. 4–9 (Sämmtliche Werke, 9:158–179, here 163–64).
Everything we have discussed to this point [with respect to the exhibition] has involved portraiture; and since in a recently published essay in Eunomia Herr Schadow rejects the notion of following classical antiquity in this respect, preferring instead to see art turned into a natural effusion of specific nationalities and ages, one cannot easily conceive how he himself could ever be capable of producing anything other than portraiture and portraiture-like figures, since the ideal forms we generally admire in the works of antiquity derive solely from an absolute, basic perception that he does not acknowledge.
With respect to a larger composition, however, which could not be included in the exhibition itself but which is enumerated in the program as belonging to it nonetheless, namely, the bas-reliefs on the new mint building, he transgressed against his own principles in finding himself constrained by the needs of his art to acknowledge the lead of antiquity here, not only with respect to the overall spirit of symbolism, but also with respect to individual figures.
[What is known as the Münzfries, mint frieze, originally created for the external walls of the Berlin mint building; Johann Christian Selter and Carl Maré, Grundriss von Berlin / von neuem aufgenommen und mit Genehmigung der Königl. Academie der Wissenschaften (Berlin, 1804); Wilhelm was living with the Bernhardis at Jungfernbrücke 10 at the time (circled at bottom right):]
[The frieze, 36 meters long and wrapped around the three front walls of the building facing the Friedrich Werder Market, depicted the discovery and mining of precious metals, the smelting, and the casting of coins, accompanied by several mythological motifs (Pluto, Mercury, Minerva); here a frontal view ca. 1800 by H. Gentz, with the first panel of the frieze (illustration by an unknown artist ca. 1871, Mitteilungen des Vereins für die Geschichte Berlins 26 ):]
Why, I feel compelled to ask, were the miners not portrayed here instead in contemporary clothing, pushing wheelbarrows etc., and thus also throughout the composition? After all, such a portrayal would be far more comprehensible and accessible to the crowds of tradesmen and such who pass by this building daily. I know exactly what the answer is, but I also know that Herr Schadow will have a difficult time justifying it according to the maxims of naturalness presented in that particular essay. He himself will have to concede that a not inconsiderable portion of intellectual power is required if one is to be a true follower of antiquity rather than merely an imitator and user.
Since this work, undeniably one of his most exquisite, cannot be judged without precisely determining the contribution of antiquity to it, I will leave such assessment to the learned scholars of antiquity, whose memory has ready access to all the ancient monuments or who otherwise have access to contemporary engravings.
What remains, then, is that Herr Schadow’s true calling is portraiture, and in that respect I must draw attention to the most successful of all his busts, namely, that of Herr von Kotzebue.
[Here possibly a drawing of Schadow’s bust, Berlin 1819, by Johann Michael Siegfried Lowe; Museum im Schloss Lützen; Sammlung Oskar Planer (Pl 632 26)]:
This bust, without the sculptor having presumed to impute any unusual artistic strivings to it, is taken so wholly from nature as to reflect truth completely, and, to the extent such is possible in the case of this particular object, a perfect representation of character. Even at first glance, one can see reflected in this countenance the beloved popularity of the writings of the original subject, and can quite clearly perceive that such a man will not be making particularly great demands on his contemporaries or expecting too much of them.
In a word, this bust is indeed to be viewed as the culmination of Herr Schadow’s talent; and if one compares it to [Friedrich] Tieck’s bust of Goethe,
[Friedrich Tieck’s bust of Goethe; Edmund Hildebrandt, Friedrich Tieck: Ein Beitrag zur deutschen Kunstgeschichte im Zeitalter Goethes und der Romantik (Leipzig 1906), plate 2, following p. 24:]
which is also to be viewed as among the most successful in the exhibition, considering further that in the bust of Goethe, just as in that of Kotzebue, one can perceive the energy with which the poet Goethe has influenced his age, the purity with which he has revivified the poesy of antiquity, and the mature manliness of his comprehensive mind: one then has an approximate standard against which to assess the fashion in which the two artists conceive and execute such portraits.
Wilhelm mentions Friedrich Bury’s portraits of Goethe a bit later in the essay (ibid., 167):
There is not much by Tieck on display. Apart from the familiar busts of Goethe and Madam Unzelmann only that of Countess Voss. Because the former are discussed at length in the Zeitung für die elegante Welt (1800) 19, I will not discuss them here, and will remark only that the bust of Madam Unzelmann is ill placed insofar as it should not be viewed from below in this fashion.
[Bust of Friederike Unzelmann 1802 by Friedrich Tieck; reproduction 4906, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin:]
On the bust of Goethe, I would wish the eyebrows eliminated, which are executed as hair, something the artist indicated in his other busts merely by the more sharply drawn corner of the eye bones and could also alter easily enough in this bust. I have, moreover, heard people maintain that the slightly open mouth diminishes the expression of energy and steadfastness. I remember quite well that Bury rendered the mouth closed in his two masterful portrayals of Goethe, one a drawing in black chalk included in the Weimar exhibit last year,
[Goethe 1800 by Friedrich Bury:]
the other the oil painting also familiar here, both the highest examples of their kind (the former expressing more a sense of intimate life, the latter more a sense of dignity and sublimity), whereby the original, namely, Herr Goethe himself, is not infrequently inclined to close his mouth firmly, or even to hold it tightly shut.
I will merely raise the question whether such considerations might well be different for the painter than for the sculptor. The latter everywhere seeks pure form, something that might perhaps be disrupted by the pressure of the lips in a closed mouth, particularly if, as is here the case, they are so handsomely rounded and curved.
In any event, when the sculptor is justified in focusing more on ideality, he can at least adduce the statues of the gods of antiquity, among which the placid Jupiter as well as the wrathful Apollo appear with open lips.
Translation © 2015 Doug Stott