Supplementary Appendix 373.1

The scandal involving the satirical review
“Weimarische Kunstausstellung und Preisvertheilung” (1802) [*]

The Weimar art exhibition and competition held between 24 September and 31 October 1802 was reviewed anonymously in “Weimarische Kunstausstellung und Preisvertheilung,” Zeitung für die elegante Welt 2 (1802), nos. 120–24 (7, 9, 12, 14, 16 October 1802) 957–60, 965–68, 973–76, 981–83, 989–93.

The review was a lengthy, extremely ironic article full of backhanded compliments and criticisms concerning pieces by essentially well-known painters who in fact had not even entered the competition in the first place [1] — excepting Heinrich Meyer, whose entries elicited, among other comments, also the following from the “reviewer”: [2]

On the other hand, the exhibition of this piece [Oedipus solving the riddle of the Sphinx], invariably offered yet another example of the sad, for some sensitive artists depressing observation of just how difficult it is in our age for true art to impress the public insofar as all sensibility for the sublime and grand seems to have become so utterly extinguished.

Several of the rather bored gawkers at the exhibition, without being the least bit moved by this work, were intent instead on putting their own wit and acumen on display by a show of infantile critique, subjecting to ridicule even the magnificent, equally novel and handsome motif that Herr Meyer employed in this presentation, namely, by painting the mouth of the Sphinx still dripping with human blood. Indeed, some viewers even thought that, given the brilliant red coloring of its mouth, the Sphinx must have just feasted on roasted cherries of huckleberries.


Howsoever the rabble may expose itself and its lack of reason through such judgments, our artist is nonetheless content with the veneration and approval of those few who are capable of appreciating and comprehending his works and the extraordinarily agreeable motifs on which they are based. . . .

Quite apart from these art works that were entered into the competition, Herr Meyer has also adorned the new castle with his works, thereby providing visitors in Weimar a completely new source of delight. One particularly noteworthy piece is his “Cycle of Human Life,” which he painted between the golden letters into the frieze in the duchess’s room. No poet, no artist will ever succeed to extent as has Herr Meyer in depicting with such powerful and frightful grandeur the paltriness and nothingness of life. Of course, although one might raise the objection that he used far too many images and figures in doing so, his primary intent was to fill out the empty spaces between the letters and thereby emphasize the gilding. And this he certainly attained in an exemplary fashion.

The account elicited Goethe’s rage against the “knaves,” not least because the “report” was composed tongue-in-cheek in the style of the Weimar “Friends of the Arts” whose lofty artistic views were promulgated in Goethe’s periodical Propyläen.

Though initially under suspicion as having been the author, Friedrich Tieck was completely innocent in the matter (see Caroline’s letter to Julie Gotter on 2 January 1803 [letter 374]); he himself incorrectly thought it was Wilhelm Schlegel (who even later was thought to be the direct or indirect initiator) or perhaps Hans Christian Genelli.

Friedrich Tieck writes what in many respects (including worries about his sister’s, Sophie Bernhardi’s, imminent childbirth) is a rather desperate letter to Wilhelm from Weimar on, 27 October 1802, where he was working on bas-reliefs for the castle construction: [3]

Write and tell me without delay whether you or Genelli is the author of the essay in the Elegante Zeitung on the art exhibition here. I am expecting a specific response to this question from you on the next postal day. If you are not the author, then be so kind as to write your brother, or tell him, if he is in Berlin, that he should write me or otherwise let me know whether he contributed to the article with Hartmann in Dresden and Buri. I insist that he quickly give me a specific answer to this question, I absolutely have to know what to do in the matter. —

Goethe is incensed about the whole thing, is talking about the knaves who dare publish such a thing, and with the [my?] brother and Hartmann, and since there are things in it only I have said, they think I am also involved in it. Meyer is acting completely calm, saying it is all just so stupid and dull that he cannot understand how Goethe could get so annoyed. The duke is having the most fun, and is sending Goethe into a rage with all his teasing. I would laugh myself were I not implicated.

So I am expecting a specific answer from you; you know from certain past experiences my discretion, and this time, too, I pledge to remain silent. But I have to know that I might take revenge on the rascals, no one can presume to order me not to do that. I see Goethe very little, and it goes without saying that he says nothing to me about it, he would be astonished. —

Please believe that I possess understanding and cold self-control enough not to ruin anything for myself. But write me immediately and tell me whether you, Genelli, or your brother has any part in this. And do not forget my demand to your brother; I am quite serious about that.

Erich Schmidt [4] thought the unknown author was probably to be sought in the more intimate circle around Johann Gottfried Schadow. Schelling thought so as well, who wrote to Wilhelm Schlegel on 29 November 1802 (letter 373a) concerning the “great fun” the article provided, one he and others were sure was authored by Theodor Heinrich Bode (the name of Friedrich Heinrich Bothe was often enough written “Bode,” which has complicated the determination of the authorship of both this article and the earlier Gigantomachia).

On 7 January 1803, Schelling mentions Goethe’s vague references to “impiety” and how people now thought perhaps that not Ludwig Tieck or Friedrich Tieck, but rather Christian Ferdinand Hartmann was the author. Fritz Adolf Hünich [5] suggested the author was Karl August Böttiger, who was seeking revenge for Goethe’s treatment of him earlier in connection with the suppression of his review of Ion. According to Hünich, the article, moreover, seems to have been composed in concurrence and with the assistance of Johann Gottfried Herder. In 1925, moreover, Anton Kippenberg acquired a manuscript of the review in the hand of Caroline Herder.

Karl Spazier [6] quickly published a poem intended as a tantalizing”key” to the “report,” “Nöthiger Schlüssel einer im 120–24 Stück der Zeitung f. d. e. W. abgedruckten Beurtheilung der Weimarischen Kunstausstellung,” that, instead of alluding to the anonymous author, seems more to disclose the target of the satire itself, namely, the sooner imperious disposition of the artistic ideals promulgated in the Propyläen. It is to this “key” that Caroline refers — somewhat exasperated — in her letter to Julie Gotter on 2 January 1803 (letter 374).


[*] Documentation in Fambach 4:651–68. Back.

[1] Something Garlieb Merkel pointed out quite soon (Berlinische Nachrichten von Staats- und gelehrten Sachen [1802] 129 [28 October 1802]); Karl Spazier, editor of the Zeitung für die elegante Welt, quickly responded to Merkel on 2 November (Zeitung für die elegante Welt (1802), 131 acknowledging that he knew the piece was a satire. Back.

[2] Zeitung für die elegante Welt (1802) 124 (16 October 1802); illustration: “Oedipus solves the riddle of the Sphinx,” in Georg Biermann, Deutsches Barock und Rokoko (Leipzig 1914), 639. Back.

[3] Edmund Hildebrandt, Friedrich Tieck: Ein Beitrag zur deutschen Kunstgeschichte im Zeitalter Goethes und der Romantik (Leipzig 1906), 38–40, here 39–40. Back.

[4] Erich Schmidt, (1913), 2:641–42. Back.

[5] “Spaziers ‘Visite à Weimar,'” Jahrbuch der Sammlung Kippenberg 5 (1925), 277–89, here 288–89. Back.

[6] Zeitung für die elegante Welt (1802) 132 (4 November 1802), 1053–54. Back.

Translation © 2016 Doug Stott