"Culture of Sensuality" at Schiller Museum reveals a view of Weimar Classicism

A man passes by at the exhibiton 'Weimar Classicism. Culture of sensuality' ('Klassik Weimar. Kultur des Sinnlichen') at the Schiller Museum in Weimar, Germany. The exhibiton is open from 16 March to 10 June 2012. EPA/MICHAEL REICHEL.

WEIMAR.- The exhibition “Weimar Classicism – Culture of Sensuality” examines Weimar Classicism for the first time beyond its immaterial, literary dimension as is usually associated with the texts by Goethe, Schiller, Herder and Wieland. The basis of this particular “culture of sensuality” is the intensive examination of the materiality of artistic, natural and everyday objects. To demonstrate how strongly sensual experiences contributed to the aesthetic and intellectual achievements of Weimar Classicism, the exhibition focuses thematically on three cultural practices in three separate rooms: living, collecting and writing.

A fundamental change took place in the perception of interior decoration at the end of the 18th century. The representative “display room” of a house, which emphasised the social status of its owner, was gradually replaced by an individually designed and dynamically changing “parlour”. This trend was the subject of especially intense discussion in Weimar; in fact, the Journal des Luxus und der Moden (Journal of Luxury and Trends), published in Weimar, significantly contributed to shaping attitudes toward contemporary living. At the same time, new living practices starting developing that were characterised by collecting and writing. The newest trend was to use one‘s living space for changing situations of sensory perception which offered aesthetic experiences and scientific insight.

The collections in Weimar and Jena gained their unique profile thanks to the closely interwoven contributions by nobility, universities and private interest groups. Because the focus was not on the monetary, but rather intellectual value of the works, the collectors readily purchased numerous reproductions for their collections. It is remarkable that Goethe – being a “visual” person – rejected glass cabinets (the precursor to today’s museum vitrines), which were becoming more prevalent around 1800, and preferred instead the traditional drawer cabinets. The objects of the collection could be removed from their containers and placed on the table top for viewing. This immediate sensual experience played a key role in the collection practice in Weimar for years to come and encouraged three forms of interaction with the items: comparing, copying and replacing.

Also around 1800, Weimar was producing a continuous flow of newly written and printed works. Massive amounts of paper were in circulation and begged to be read. Yet printed paper was not merely regarded as the carrier of information, but also a material with inherent qualities. Readers were more keenly aware of the quality of the media in question, which was always part of the message – be it a special sheet of paper or silk ribbon. Furthermore, the protagonists of Weimar’s classical period believed that the communicated message was also influenced by various forms of writing: the flourish of a quill, the use of a pencil, embroidery, engraving, even dictating and printing.

A total of 200 objects are on display including a number of lesser known pieces. For example, visitors can view a multifunctional study-bed and a selection of busts of various materials made in workshops in Weimar. The exhibition features reproductions of wall decorations in Goethe’s and Schiller’s working rooms. A standing glass cabinet provides insight into Goethe’s collecting practices. Minerals, copperplate engravings, illustrations and collections of signet rings invite visitors to become acquainted with the collections in Weimar. The exhibition also includes writing utensils such as an ebony inkwell which bears Goethe’s handwriting and handwritten manuscripts by various figures of Weimar Classicism.

A green carpeted gallery interconnects the three exhibition rooms which feature a casually arranged sequence of twelve extraordinary exhibits. They all demonstrate, each in their own way, how living, collecting and writing were inextricably linked around 1800 – clever and intellectual, bulky and plain, sophisticated and reflective. For example, viewers can admire a walking stick allegedly made from the last palm tree of the Acropolis, as well as 200-year-old imprints of antique cameos made of sugar.

One of the highlights of the exhibition is a virtual reconstruction of Goethe’s Residence with a focus on its interior design and the changes it underwent between 1790 and 1830. Starting 28 August 2012, this simulation will be part of the new exhibition “Flood of Life – Storm of Deeds” at the Goethe National Museum.

The accompanying programme includes exhibition tours conducted by the curators, gallery discussions with researchers and numerous events for children, families and school groups – from the “Museum Box” to creative workshops.

The exhibition “Weimar Classicism – Cultural of Sensuality” represents the culmination of the Goethe Commemorative Year 2012. It was developed by the Klassik Stiftung Weimar in cooperation with the German Forum for Art History and was funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) through the programme “Translation Functions of the Humanities”.

People attend the exhibiton 'Weimar Classicism. Culture of sensuality' ('Klassik Weimar. Kultur des Sinnlichen') at the Schiller Museum in Weimar, Germany. The exhibiton is open from 16 March to 10 June 2012. EPA/MICHAEL REICHEL.



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