Johannes Grave, Der "ideale Kunstkörper": Johann Wolfgang Goethe als Sammler von Druckgraphiken und Zeichnungen. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2006. 648 pp.
This investigation by Johannes Grave of Goethe as a collector of graphic art and drawings is the author's revised 2004 Jena doctoral dissertation. In his introduction Grave cites from a diary note the phrase "Nicht von der Kunst in abstracto," written by Goethe on his return from Italy to Weimar in 1788, which, according to Grave, serves as Goethe's motto for his art collection. One should not write about art in abstract terms and, as Goethe added, especially without reference to artworks. Except the years 1786-88, during which Goethe intensely studied treatises on architecture, he consciously avoided reading any art-theoretical treatises and he tried, as Grave shows at length, to base all of his comments on his own personal observations and experiences with the visual.
Grave draws from Manfred Sommer's insight that collections of art are "Refugien der Sinnlichkeit" and considers them the last sanctuaries where residues of unspoiled sense perceptions can be located. Goethe's vast collections of graphic prints and drawings allow a glimpse into his own practices as a collector and offer something which helps to position him not via his words but his actions. Whereas most studies on Goethe's collections of artworks use them merely as secondary factors or "Belege" in order to document a certain idea, Grave focuses his readers' attention first and foremost on the physical collections themselves rather than engaging with ideas or ideals. Since Grave believes that Goethe did not base his art collections on any logical premises that can be drawn from his writings (a statement one is tempted to question, especially considering the Propyläen project) and since Grave does not want to impose any theoretical matrix on his study of Goethe's art-collecting activities, he embarks on a daring undertaking in trying to construct a theory retrospectively through an analysis of what Goethe actually collected. Through a comparative study of the artworks' characteristics, structures, and differences, Grave finds that there is a preference for certain media and art forms during specific periods of Goethe's life. He makes us wonder about the preference for graphic prints and drawings over oil paintings and brings to our attention Goethe's amazing sensibility for even the most subtle graphic qualities, which is evidenced by his collecting of numerous reproductions of the same motif or the same work by an artist. Goethe seems to have been striving for a better understanding of art history by carefully examining numerous examples within the same movement or epoch. He was curious about reproduction techniques and the materials that were used.
Grave's research method is a material based one, systematic yet anti-theoretical. His interest is historical and he wants to come up with an intellectual "profile" of Goethe. …