Philipp Otto Runge's Tageszeiten and Their Relationship to Romantic Nature Philosophy

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Er schwieg stille, wohl eine Stunde, dann meynte er, es konne nie anders, nie deutlicher ausgesprochen werden, was er immer mit der neuen Kunst gemeynt habe; es hatte ihn aus der Fassung gesetzt dass das, was er sich doch nie als Gestalt gedacht, wovon er auch nur den Zusammenhang geahnet, jetzt als Gestalt ihn inmaer von dem ersten zum letzten herumriss. (1)

[He fell silent, perhaps for as much as an hour, then he said that it was impossible to express in any other terms or more clearly what he had always meant by the new art; it had disturbed him that things which he had never imagined as forms, things between which he had only suspected a connection, were now visible in the most concrete form, sending him again and again from the first drawing to the last.]

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SO PHILIPP OTTO RUNGE DESCRIBES THE REACTION OF THE ROMANTIC AU thor Ludwig Tieck on his first sight of Runge's Tageszeiten [Times of Day] drawings in 1803. Allowing for a measure of hyperbole in Runge's report, perhaps also for somewhat exaggerated enthusiasm by the theatrically inclined Tieck, there is in this statement nevertheless a remarkable sense of ideas and images envisioned by contemporaries being dramatically translated into pictorial form. What was it in these drawings that so impressed Tieck? What was the romantic content to which they gave such striking expression?

The Tageszeiten are a set of four outline drawings portraying the four phases of the day created by Runge between the end of 1802 and July of 1803. It was his intention from the outset to elaborate them eventually into color paintings for use as murals or architectonic decorations and even to make them the basis of a kind of Gesamtkunstwerk; (2) but by his death in i810 only one of them had been converted into color, and not to his satisfaction. They are shown here in the interim form in which Runge first sent them to the engraver in Autunm 1803, although in the previous months he had made numerous preliminary sketches and had also prepared rigidly geometric versions of the four drawings. (3) At this stage he thought of them in the order Morgen, Abend, Tag, Nacht, and there are indeed senses in which Morgen and Abend on the one hand and Tag and Nacht on the other constitute corresponding pairs, "Gegenstucke" [counterparts or pendants] as Runge himself termed them (HS 1: 31). There is no reason to view them in what might be thought to be the "natural" sequence, that is, starting with Morgen and ending with Nacht, since closer investigation of their content will reveal that Runge conceived the four phases following in continual rotation, so that they have no starting point and no conclusion, proceeding in what Runge himself described as an "ewigen Cirkelschlag" [eternal cycle] (HS 1: 69). The term phases is appropriate for the four representations, for their significance is not confined to the times of day. In Runge's correspondence the drawings are referred to variously as Tageszeiten and Zeiten [Seasons], whilst the second issue of the published engravings was entitled Vier Zeiten [Four Seasons], although paradoxically it was also at this point in 1807 that captions specifying the four times of day were added in the bottom panel of the frames. Each drawing thus represents simultaneously a part of the day and one of the four seasons but also, in a much more general sense, a phase in the organic process of conception, growth, decay and death, an everlasting cycle transcending human time divisions.

Even a cursory look at these drawings may remind the spectator of numerous parallels in the literary texts of German romanticism. One might think for instance of the programmatic couplet from Clemens Brentano's poem "Eingang" summarizing the preoccupations of his romantic verse:

   O Stern und Blume, Geist und Kleid,
   Lieb', Leid und Zeit und Ewigkeit! (4)
   [O star and flower, spirit and raiment,
   Love, suffering and time and eternity]

There is no reason to assume any detailed equivalences of theme or any direct influence on these particular verses, although Brentano and Runge corresponded regularly in the year preceding Runge's death and Brentano later used Runge's Nacht as a model for an illustration to Gockel, Hinkel und Gackeleia, (5) precisely the story in which the couplet is repeated at several points. …