Supplementary Appendix 420.1

Caroline’s remarks on
St. John the Baptist in the Wilderness and The Ascension of Mary;
related: the Sistine Madonna

In her letter to Luise Gotter and her daughters on 7 January 1807 (letter 420), Caroline remarks to Cäcilie Gotter concerning the Munich art gallery that

if you were still an artist, St. Cäcilie, what stories could I tell you about the treasures in our gallery here, which through the acquisition of the Düsseldorf gallery has grown into what is at least the 2nd best collection in Germany. (May God grant that Dresden remain the first!). . . Although I have not yet really acquired as many or as unequivocal points of tranquility there as in the Dresden gallery, I would nonetheless wish for all those whom I otherwise wish well in any case that they, too, might have the frequent opportunity to view the Ascension of Mary by Guido Reni and St. John the Baptist in the Wilderness.

Caroline’s mention of these two paintings is not fortuitous. In a lengthy discussion of the earlier essay “Die Gemählde. Ein Gespräch von W,” Athenaeum (1799), 39–151, Emil Sulger-Gebing, Die Brüder A. W. und F. Schlegel in ihrem Verhältnisse zur bildenden Kunst (Munich 1897), 54–55, discusses the relationship between painting and poesy as presented by the character of Waller (Wilhelm Schlegel) in that essay:

Waller, who has been noticeably quiet during this entire discussion, now intends to “get at the work [Raphael’s Sistine Madonna; see below] from a different perspective,” declaring that poesy and the fine arts mutually influence one another in an ongoing fashion. Poesy “should always be the guide of the fine arts, which in their own turn must serve her as interpreter” (Athenaeum [1799], 134).

And in a reverse fashion, poesy becomes an interpreter for painting when the latter’s objects have become unfamiliar to us. After a brief digression concerning Protestantism’s and Catholicism’s relationship to art, and concerning the considerable advantage enjoyed by a specific mythical circle for painting of the sort provided by the Catholic church [ibid., 134–35], Waller also views contemporary artists, to the extent they are intent on “conceiving that which surpasses what is human,” before the alternative of “repeating the ideals of an extinct world of the gods, or of doing ongoing, formative homage to the divine and sacred persons of a yet existing and efficacious faith” that, as he quickly adds, “merits perpetual endurance as free, beautiful poetry” [ibid., 136].

Poesy is to demonstrate its gratitude to painting by treating some of the latter’s “traditional subjects” [ibid., 136], whereupon Waller himself presents a series of eight sonnets [ibid., 137–43], the subject of the first of which, the Annunciation (“Ave Maria”), hardly really refers to a specific painting at all, whereas the following sonnets pick up, in the view of Waller’s own dialogue partners, on familiar artistic renderings despite the poet’s assurance that he did not directly choose individual paintings as models.

Thus does the second, “Christ’s Birth,” recall Correggio’s Holy Night. The third, “The Three Kings,” lingers more in the universal, though we are nonetheless reminded of Luise’s [character representing Caroline’s voice] description of the “modest golden light from the childhood of art”, while the fourth, “The Holy Family,” might be applied to a great many pictures, lacking individual features as it does.

The fifth, by contrast, “St. John in the Wilderness,” in which John is portrayed as a “strong youth” meditating in the desert, picks up on a painting in the Düsseldorf Gallery at the time, one attributed variously to Raphael and Andrea del Sarto, whereas today [1897] it is in the Munich Alte Pinakothek [Gal. no. 1093], is attributed simply to the “Roman school,” and has lost much of its former status and renown [in a footnote, Sulger-Gebing cites in full the present passage from Caroline’s letter 420; see below concerning the painting’s supposed artist].

Whereas the sonnet “Mater Dolorosa” treats the theme without taking a specific painting as its model, the sonnet “Ascension of the Virgin” reflects yet another popular painting at the time, namely, by Guido Reni, and again located in Düsseldorf [fn: Now in the Munich Alte Pinakothek, no. 1170]; Georg Forster had discussed the piece in his Ansichten vom Niederrhein [Ansichten vom Niederrhein, von Brabant, Flandern, Holland, England und Frankreich im April, Mai und Junius 1790, 3 vols. (Berlin 1791–94), 1:244–48].

The next sonnet, “The Mother of God in Glory” [Luise: “Ah, here we finally have our Raphael”], offers a rather unsuccessful paraphrase of Raphael’s Sistine Madonna, which is thus celebrated here yet a second time in hymnic poesy. It was especially the Romantics who secured for this singular work an appropriate place among a broader public by never ceasing to praise it and by returning to it repeatedly in both their published writings and letters.

Here approximate prose renderings of the three sonnets at issue:

Daniele da Volterra, Johannes der Täufer; Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen, Alte Pinakothek München; inventory no. 499; acquisition: 1806 from the Düsseldorf Gallery; illustration from Niederrheinisches Taschenbuch für Liebhaber des Schönen und Guten (Düsseldorf 1800); Inhaltsverzeichnis deutscher Almanache, Theodor Springmann Stiftung.

Catalogue of the Paintings in the Old Pinakothek Munich, trans. Joseph Thacher Clarke (Munich 1885), 221:

1093. (592.) St. John the Baptist sitting naked near a spring. In the right hand he holds a vessel filled with water, and supports himself with the left upon the cross. At the left: view of a landscape. Full-figure, over life-size. This picture, formerly attributed to Raphael, is probably by a Dutch imitator who had worked long in Italy, perhaps Franz Floris de Vriendt.


St. John in the Wilderness

A strong youth, bold and quick to act,
Does John depart his accustomed sphere.
In desolate crevasse does he prefer to bed,
Loins girded in rough hide and fur.

Childlike simplicity now his mind, bright his eyes;
Naught that is base fetters him to earth,
And within the divine source does he
His race now seek to save from ruin.

On rocks he sits whose springs do quench his thirst,
Before his soul rises now an image high,
Fixing his mind in astonished contemplation.

Tis the Son of Man, as grand as mild,
The earnest seer now bows his head and speaks:
"Ah, compared to you am I harsh and wild!"

Guido Reni, The Assumption of Mary (1638/39); Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen; Alte Pinakothek Munich; Inventory no. 446; accession: 1806 from the Düsseldorf Gallery; undated engraving.

Catalogue of the Paintings in the Old Pinakothek Munich, 235:

1170. (527.) The Assumption of the Virgin. The Virgin in a glory, with outstretched arms, upborne by two large and two small angels, floats heavenward. Below are the heads of three cherubs.


Assumption of the Virgin

How now, my soul? From God's own throne does bliss now flare,
With sweet bonds now holding me fast.
My yearning through the heavens has flown:
I behold the Father with his precious Son.

Onward, onward! that I may with you dwell,
Gently upward lifted by love's strong draw!
Ye Saints, who did faithfully with me struggle,
Believed, loved, hoped, and once the crown did gain! —

And as they vanish thus on cloud and breeze,
Do heaven's latest sons smile round about them;
Even suns now yield beneath their feet.

In light does yet another light emerge,
The bride now shines, in purest beauty transfigured ,
Resting now, loving, at love's source.

Raffaelo Santi (Raphael), Madonna di San Sisto.

K. Woermann, Catalogue of the Pictures in the Royal Gallery at Dresden, 7th ed. (Dresden 1908), 27:

The Madonna di San Sisto. The Virgin with the Child, standing on clouds. On the left, His Holiness Pope Sixtus II, on the right, St. Barbara. In the foreground two cherubs leaning on a ledge. Principle Gem of the Gallery.


The Mother of God in Glory

Angels to you inclined in solemn celebration,
And saints praying where your footsteps sound:
Glorious Queen of Heaven! To you resound, 
Strung by God, the lyres of the spheres.

Your spirit, visibly divine, through the veil does gaze
Of the immutably flowering figure;
A child of sublime omnipotence do you bear,
Death's conqueror, the world's liberator.

O Virgin! daughter of him whom you nourished!
Your womb chosen as sanctuary,
Where the deity itself did shape its image.

On life itself did your life bestow new soul,
Eternal love that bears the cosmos,
Through you is with us now inextricably wed.