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Italian Journey: 1786-1788 by Johann…

Italian Journey: 1786-1788 (1816)

by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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8341216,874 (3.85)15
In 1786, when he was already the acknowledged leader of the Sturm und Drang literary movement, Goethe set out on a journey to Italy to fulfil a personal and artistic quest and to find relief from his responsibilities and the agonies of unrequited love. As he travelled to Venice, Rome, Naples and Sicily he wrote many letters, which he later used as the basis for the Italian Journey. A journal full of fascinating observations on art and history, and the plants, landscape and the character of the local people he encountered, this is also a moving account of the psychological crisis from which Goethe emerged newly inspired to write the great works of his mature years.… (more)

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English (6)  German (3)  Dutch (2)  Italian (1)  All languages (12)
Showing 1-5 of 6 (next | show all)
The title-page was enough to correct a couple of my misconceptions about this book: I had the idea that this would be the young Goethe backpacking around Italy with the 18th-century equivalent of an Inter-Rail pass, amazed to discover the richness of classical and renaissance art, and rushing his experiences into print to encourage a generation of young poets to do the same. Totally wrong: he was in his late thirties, a famous literary figure and securely established in his ministerial post in Weimar. And he had already spent a lot of time and effort learning about Roman and Italian art in German collections before he set off, and he took with him the works of previous travellers like Winckelmann. So he knew what he was looking at.

Moreover, these travel-diaries weren't prepared for publication until Goethe got to the age where writers are expected to produce memoirs, about thirty years on (the description of the second stay in Rome didn't appear until 1829). Europe had changed quite a bit between 1786 and 1816 - this is probably the ultimate "don't mention the war" book. Goethe obviously did a fair bit of tidying up to prepare it for publication, but at no point does he make any reference (even indirect) to the intervening wars and revolutions. You'd have to be a pretty stony conservative to get away with that. Just imagine someone publishing a travel diary from 1913 in 1946 and pretending that the world was still the same...

Having said that, Goethe is mostly an entertaining travel-companion, because he's interested in absolutely everything from geology and botany to street-cleaning (predictably, he seems to think the last of these is better organised in Germany than Italy...). In Sicily he takes time off from art and architecture to visit the family of a famous bandit; in Naples he parties with Lady Hamilton and an unnamed princess; he climbs Vesuvius and is disappointed not to be able to climb Etna as well. There is a great description of the Roman Carnival, and entertaining looks at street-life in Naples.

Of course the trip is mostly about art, and there's a lot of description of the things he's seen and his reaction to them. Some of this is just lists, and he's often careful not to sound as though he's giving objective critical opinions - at one point he has a rant about "English-style" guidebooks that classify all artworks as good or bad, and have the temerity to point out "faults" in the work of Raphael and Michelangelo. That doesn't stop him giving his own reactions to what he sees, of course, but he doesn't set himself up as anything more than an amateur art-historian.

Sometimes there are interesting glimpses into the practicalities of tourism in the age before photography and electric light - Goethe can sketch reasonably well, but still takes pains to find an artist to travel with him to make sure that he can get a visual record of the things he has seen. And there are descriptions of how the interest of sculptures changes when you get to see them in torchlight.

I was also struck by the difference between Goethe's approach to the Italian Church and what I've seen in travel writings by British writers of the 18th or early 19th century. His comments about what he sees are simply those of a curious, Enlightened observer: he never adopts a partisan position, as British writers would have felt their readers expected them to. Sketching in the Sistine Chapel he enjoys telling us that he took a nap on the Papal throne, but when he is there for an Easter service he is impressed by the pomp and Palestrina.

Fun, and a nice book to dip in and out of, but it's a bit too random and unstructured to read in one go. ( )
  thorold | Nov 13, 2016 |
This book records Goethe's 2 years travelling in Italy in the company of different artists, where he "refinds" himself, He spends more lot more time reviewing artworks than he does describing his actual travels, although he does give some interesting insites in to the eruption of Mt Vesuvius and Roman carnivals. Overall it was a very informatiive book but he wasn't the only one ready for him to go home after two years! ( )
  TheWasp | Jun 10, 2010 |
First, I have to say that the other students in my class seemed quite enthused about this book, and it did generate lots of fairly interesting discussion. There were some really well-written, though-provoking bits.

But I disliked the absence of a story—this is, for the most part, just a series of events of his time in Italy made up of letters, diary entries and memories. There are moments of splendid finesse, but over all, I found it rather a bore and was quite annoyed with Goethe by the end. Reading this was like listening to some pompous distant relative go on and on about himself. So I had to laugh when the next writer I had to read, the grouchy historian and fellow-German Barthold George Niebuhr, dissed Goethe’s musings on Rome. Writing 30 years later, he says that Goethe wrote “in a fit of intoxication,” and he was “doubtless infected by the spirit of his age.” He goes on to say that Goethe “has no inward, native insight” and writes “with an air of patronizing superiority.” Never mind that Niebuhr writes with an air of patronizing superiority himself. It just felt good to know that I wasn’t the only one to find Goethe’s Italian Journey to be a snooze-fest.

That said, it was an unintimidating read, and I look forward to reading other works by Goethe as long as I’m assured that they have a narrative.

Recommended for: Readers who are interested in first-hand accounts of the Grand Tour. ( )
  Nickelini | Mar 12, 2010 |
This book give a great description of the "Grand Tour" that was a staple of the educated class. Travel to Roma before the advent of tourism and chain hotels, where having dinner with the Pope in not the high point of the trip. ( )
  Andrewfm | Apr 13, 2007 |
Goethe in the Tyrol - excerpt from Italian Journey

Trento, the 11th of September [1786], morning.

After wholly fifty hours of life and continual occupation I arrived here yesterday at eight o’clock, went soon to rest, and now find myself again prepared to continue my story. On the evening of the ninth, when I had brought the first portion of my journal to a close, I still wanted to draw my lodging, the post office, in its place in the Brenner pass, but it was unsuccessful, I missed its character and went home half annoyed. My host asked whether I should like to leave, by moonlight was the best way, and whether I knew that he needed the horses in the morning to take in the hay, he would like to have them back by then.Read the rest of this excerpt »
  mjh | Jan 27, 2007 |
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» Add other authors (32 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Johann Wolfgang von Goetheprimary authorall editionscalculated
Auden, W. H.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Bofill, Rafael M.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Einem, Herbert vonCommentssecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Mayer, ElizabethTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Müller-Freienfels, RichardEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Rega, LorenzoIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Schildt, GöranIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Trunz, ErichEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Westphal, GertNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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