Johann Wolfgang Goethe in Rome

posted Nov 19, 2011, 7:23 AM by Stefano Capoccioni   [ updated Nov 19, 2011, 7:24 AM ]
Art and history in Rome
When Johann Wolfgang Goethe arrived in Rome in 1786, he was already a world-famous writer thanks to his Werther. But he still was not that unquestionable genius of the “Elective Affinities” or invention of the concept of world literature.
Goethe’s Italian Journey,  which brought him to Rome for two full years, was not only for pleasure, but was most definitely a rebirth – as can be seen from records: ''In Rome I first found myself. For the first time, I achieved inner harmony, happy, reasonable...''.
He was almost forty years old when he arrived in the Italian capital and from 1786 to 1788 he lived with the German painter, Johann Heinrich Tischbein, in his house in Via del Corso.
Casa di Goethe
Now transformed into a museum, the Casa di Goethe is a favourite tourist destination which can still be found at number 18 on Via del Corso.
This is the starting point of the itinerary which takes you around all the places most dear to the writer, where he lived and spent the most important moments of his stay in Rome. You can also visit the permanent exhibition on the writer which brings together anecdotes and the most significant events of his time in Rome.
The Spanish Steps and the Church of the Santissima Trinità dei Monti
The monumental staircase (135 steps) must have been one of the routes Goethe often took to reach the Church of the Santissima Trinità dei Monti, and admire the beautiful view of the streets below. The Spanish Steps, designed by Alessandro Specchi and Francesco De Sanctis, were inaugurated by Pope Benedict XIII on the occasion of the Jubilee Year of 1725.
The French Academy in Rome
From Piazza di Spagna to Caffè Greco, from the Trevi Fountain to the Quirinal, Goethe loved strolling around these places, following an ideal itinerary taking in beautiful sights which he usually liked to finish at Villa Medici. He could soak up the beautiful view from here, taking in the rooftops of Rome. At that time Villa Medici had not yet become home to the French Academy in Rome; this took place at a later date in 1804. The prestigious academy was founded by Louis the 14th in 1666 to accommodate French artists working in Rome.
Antico Caffè Greco (Via Condotti 86)
Still home to intellectuals and writers and also popular with tourists and regulars, it is one of the capital’s historic cafés, opened in 1760 by a Greek. For Goethe, it was a place for dropping in and meeting up with others, at just a short distance from where he lived, where he used to love to spend long hours over his Italian-style breakfast. Photos, writings and paintings of famous regulars are all to be found on the café’s walls.
Palazzo Montecitorio
While strolling through the square, Goethe was struck by the sight of the obelisk lying on the ground and which was only erected much later in 1792, at the request of Pope Pius VI Braschi. Proof of this can be found in the pages of his Italian Journey, where we can read: “This ancient and beautiful of monuments now lies broken and disfigured on some of its facades…, and yet it is still there. I want to take the imprint of a sphinx sitting on the top… even more so given that rumour has it that the pope wants to re-erect it and then the hieroglyphics will become inaccessible."
Piazza del Quirinale
Goethe used to love to take a stroll here in the company of his painter friend, Tischbein. At the time, the splendid Quirinal Palace was used as a papal residence. It only became the official residence of the President of the Republic in 1946 (the year when the Republic was proclaimed).
While walking through the square, the writer was struck by its beauty every time: “The square in front of the palace has something quite unmistakeable, asymmetrical as it is, yet majestic and harmonious. And here I am at last in front of two colossuses (the statues of Castor and Pollux)!”
Goethe and his trips to the country
As we can read in his Italian Journey, it was not only the eternal city which Goethe loved - “There is only one Rome in the world and I feel as at home here as a fish in water” –, but also his trips outside the capital which brought him to the green of the Roman countryside. “Among the hills in Albano, in Castelgandolfo, in Frascati, where I spent three days last week, the air is always pure and limpid. There you are able to study a different nature”.