1. Introduction
  2. “Einfache Nachahmung der Natur, Manier, Styl”: Style and Cognition
  3. “Diderots Versuch über die Malerei”: Critique of Naturalism and the De-Personalization of Style
  4. Italienische Reise: Goethe’s Stylistic Testing Ground
  5. The Beginnings of Late Style
  6. Beyond Modernity
  7. Conclusion
  8. Notes
  9. Works Cited and Further Reading


In describing his style, Goethe’s readers have often seized on similar attributes: Many have praised its naturalness, including Hans-Georg Gadamer, who applauds the “unvergleichliche Natürlichkeit”1 (incomparable naturalness) of Goethe’s writing, which he credits to the rejection of rhetorical models as well as to Goethe’s serene disposition or “Gelassenheit.”2 The idea that Goethe’s writing is imbued with a singular naturalness was first articulated by Friedrich Schiller in his essay “Über naive und sentimentalische Dichtung” (1795; On Naïve and Sentimental Poetry) in which Schiller implicitly associates Goethe with the naïve poet who adheres to nature.3 Other readers have taken the opposite stance, recognizing a certain unnaturalness and artificiality as the defining characteristic of Goethe’s writing. In his stylistic analysis of the play Die natürliche Tochter (1803; The Natural Daughter), Bernhard Böschenstein points out the “hochgradige Künstlichkeit”4 (utmost artificiality) of Goethe’s language—a language that becomes pure form by being progressively emptied of any real-world reference (Böschenstein 263). Karl Heinz Bohrer, in a sweeping reflection on the meaning of style in modern culture, explains Goethe’s artificiality in terms of a sense for traditions and forms that German culture otherwise lacks.5—These opposing views of Goethe’s style as natural or artificial, immediate or inauthentic, in fact seem to mirror two of the categories that Goethe develops in his short essay “Einfache Nachahmung der Natur, Manier, Styl” (1789; Simple Imitation of Nature, Manner, Style). In it, Goethe distinguishes between three different modes of aesthetic representation and defines his concept of style. He conceives of “einfache Nachahmung der Natur” (the simple imitation of nature) as a lifelike rendition of natural objects without any aesthetic supplementation. “Manier” (manner), in contrast, approximates an artificial style by foregrounding the artist’s virtuosity instead of the represented object. Both concepts, however, are but preliminary stages of aesthetic representation leading up to style proper. Style, for Goethe, reconciles an objective mode of representation with an awareness of subjective artistry and, in doing so, represents the highest level that art can reach. Goethe’s remarks in “Einfache Nachahmung der Natur, Manier, Styl” suggest that he did not see himself as an artist of simple imitation or of manner but as a master of style. Johann Peter Eckermann was one of the first to explicitly apply this category to Goethe’s work. In his Beyträge zur Poesie mit besonderer Hinweisung auf Goethe with which he introduced himself to the poet in 1821, Eckermann identifies Schiller as an artist with a highly individualized manner and Goethe as an artist with a genuine style, which Eckermann defines as the poetic correspondence between the aesthetic object and its mode of representation.6

Es ist für einen aufstrebenden jungen Dichter nichts Köstlicheres als ein solches höchstes Verfahren eines großen Meisters, das wir Styl nennen. Aus der immer neuen Behandlung jedes neuen Gegenstandes lernt er das enge, gleichsam durchwachsene Verhältniß zwischen Inhalt und Form. Und ein solches Muster ist über alle Nachahmung erhaben, denn wo soll er es fassen, es ist ja ewig neu, ewig ein anders. So ist Goethe.7
For a young aspiring poet there is nothing more precious than that paramount operation of the great master which we call style. From the ever-new reproduction of every new object he learns about the close, the thoroughly entangled relation between content and form. And such a pattern is superior to all imitation, for how shall he get hold of it: it is ever new, ever different. Thus is Goethe.8

According to Eckermann, Goethe’s style is characterized by the harmony between content and form; because his style changes according to the object being represented, it can neither be codified nor imitated. Eckermann illustrates this particular “Mannigfaltigkeit” (diversity) of Goethe’s style by comparing it to the natural diversity of species.

Wäre Goethen bey der Schöpfung der Auftrag geworden, etwa die Geschlechter der Vögel hervorzubringen, so sähen wir Alles, wie wir es nun haben, die Raben schwarz, die Sperlinge grau, den Pfau in seinem prangenden Schmuck, Alles verschieden, Alles dem jedesmaligen Gegenstande gemäß, und wir erfreuten uns, wie wir es nun der Natur verdanken, einer bis ins Unendliche gehenden Mannigfaltigkeit, die ewig neuen Genuß gewährt, nie ermüdet. (Eckermann, Beyträge zur Poesie, 46–47)
If, in the Creation, Goethe had been instructed to originate the species of birds we would see everything as we now have it, the birds black, the sparrows grey, the peacock in his splendent ornament, everything different, everything appropriate to the object, and we would rejoice, as we are now grateful to nature, in an infinite diversity that affords ever new pleasure, that never wears out.

Before Eckermann, Goethe’s contemporaries had already noted the characteristic “Mannigfaltigkeit” of Goethe’s style, or what recent scholarship has characterized as a certain stylistic “flexibility.”9 In his “Versuch über den verschiedenen Styl in Goethes früheren und späteren Werken” (Essay on the Different Style in Goethe’s Earlier and Later Works), a part of the “Gespräch über die Poesie” (1800; Dialogue on Poetry), Friedrich Schlegel notes the striking contrast between Goethe’s earlier and later works: “Ihr werdet nicht leicht einen andern Autor finden, dessen früheste und spätere Werke so auffallend verschieden wären, wie es hier der Fall ist.”10 (You will not easily find another author whose earliest and later works are so strikingly different as is the case here.) Besides the qualities of “naturalness” and “artificiality,” the “Mannigfaltigkeit” (diversity) of Goethe’s writing has become yet another characteristic that readers refer to when describing the peculiarities of his style.

“Einfache Nachahmung der Natur, Manier, Styl”: Style and Cognition

The three basic categories that form the basis of Goethe’s reflections on style—simple imitation of nature, manner, and style—have been interpreted as historical categories denoting, in an ontogenetic sense, the different phases in the evolution of the poet or, in a phylogenetic sense, the subsequent stages in the progression of human art.11 However, in Goethe’s text, they are introduced as systematic and ahistorical categories corresponding to different modes of aesthetic representation. While Goethe develops his thoughts specifically in reference to the art of painting, the theoretical design of his essay suggests that the categories he proposes are valid for aesthetic theory in general.

The explicit aim of his short essay “Einfache Nachahmung der Natur, Manier, Styl,” published in the 65th installment of Christoph Martin Wieland’s literary magazine Der Teutsche Merkur (The German Mercury), was to define and distinguish terms that, Goethe complained, were too often used arbitrarily and without precision.12 In particular, the relation between manner and style had long been a cause for confusion in aesthetics. According to Ursula Link-Heer, the word “manner” was originally confined to the field of the visual arts while the term “style” was used in reference to language and writing. This clear distinction started to erode in the late Renaissance when written and visual arts began to merge, thus preparing the grounds for the more comprehensive field of modern aesthetics.13 Over the course of this transformation, Link-Heer explains, the term “manner” acquired two different meanings: a neutral or affirmative one, which described the aesthetic properties particular to the art of an individual or a group of artists, and a pejorative one denoting an excess of artistic individuality. This partial devaluation of the term “manner” was a crucial prerequisite for the rise of the notion of style in eighteenth and nineteenth-century aesthetics of which Goethe’s text is, at least to some extent, symptomatic.14

Goethe takes neither manner nor style as the starting point for his own reflections but instead sets out by pondering another aesthetic concept that was widely discussed in the aesthetic discourse of his time––namely, “Nachahmung” (imitation). Goethe’s favorable approach towards the concept in the essay is influenced by Karl Philipp Moritz’s treatise “Über die bildende Nachahmung des Schönen” (1788; On the Creative Imitation of Beauty), which Goethe and Moritz discussed during their stay in Italy between 1786 and 1788, and represents a notable departure from his earlier work in which he had criticized the idea of artistic creation being based on imitation.15 In the 1789 essay, Goethe writes approvingly of the “simple imitation of nature” as a mode of artistic creation that closely adheres to natural objects in order to represent them as directly and truthfully as possible:

Wenn ein Künstler, bei dem man das natürliche Talent voraussetzen muß, in der frühsten Zeit, nachdem er nur einigermaßen Auge und Hand an Mustern geübt, sich an die Gegenstände der Natur wendete, mit Treue und Fleiß ihre Gestalten, ihre Farben auf das genaueste nachahmte, sich gewissenhaft niemals von ihr entfernte, jedes Gemälde das er zu fertigen hätte wieder in ihrer Gegenwart anfinge und vollendete; ein solcher würde immer ein schätzenswerter Künstler sein; denn es könnte ihm nicht fehlen, daß er in einem unglaublichen Grade wahr würde, daß seine Arbeiten sicher, kräftig und reich sein müßten. (FA 1.18:225)
Assume that an aspiring artist with some talent begins to paint natural objects after only brief preliminary training in basic techniques. He copies forms with care and diligence and imitates colors as closely as he can, taking pains never to deviate from nature, beginning and completing every picture with an eye to nature. This person will always be an estimable artist because he will necessarily achieve an incredible degree of accuracy, and his works will be assured, vital and diverse.16

While Goethe grants the simple imitation of nature a high degree of truthfulness, he points out that both the objects and the artist are subject to certain limitations: the object must always be static and at hand; likewise, the artist must be quiet and humble, without any artistic aspirations of their own (cf. FA 1.18:225–26).

The term “manner” can be considered the opposite of the simple imitation of nature. In devising his individual representation of the object, the artist turns away from the close observation of nature and develops a language of his own. By repeatedly copying one and the same object, the artist loses his immediate relation to it, focusing instead on his subjective perception and its artistic expression. Since everybody sees the world through different eyes, there are as many manners as there are artists (cf. FA 1.18:226).

After close imitation of nature and the formation of an individual artistic language, the artist eventually reaches—“durch genaues und tiefes Studium der Gegenstände selbst” (FA 1.18:227; through precise and profound study of the objects themselves)—the highest degree of art, that is, style: “dann wird der Styl der höchste Grad wohin sie [die Kunst] gelangen kann; der Grad, wo sie sich den höchsten menschlichen Bemühungen gleichstellen darf” (FA 1.18:227 and Nardroff/Nardroff, 72; Then art will have reached its highest possible level, which is style and equal to the highest achievement of mankind). While simple imitation ties the artist to the represented object and its physical presence, manner liberates him from it. Style, in turn, aims at the “Wesen der Dinge” (FA 1.18:227; essence of things)—insofar as we are able to recognize this essence at all—for it is based on the “tiefsten Grundfesten der Erkenntnis” (FA 1.18:227 and Nardroff/Nardroff, 72; most fundamental principle of cognition).

Goethe proceeds to explain how the artist can attain style, starting from the simple imitation of nature. Through imitation, the artist begins to develop an understanding of the objects of representation, though this is merely a knowledge of the surface of things:

Er hat mit faßlichen Formen zu tun; alles kommt auf die mannigfaltige Bestimmung und die Farbe der Oberfläche an. Die pelzige Pfirsche, die fein bestaubte Pflaume, den glatten Apfel, die glänzende Kirsche, die blendende Rose, die mannigfaltigen Nelken, die bunten Tulpen, alle wird er nach Wunsch im höchsten Grade der Vollkommenheit ihrer Blüte und Reife in seinem stillen Arbeitszimmer vor sich haben; er wird ihnen die günstigste Beleuchtung geben; sein Auge wird sich an die Harmonie der glänzenden Farben, gleichsam spielend, gewöhnen[.] (FA 1.18:228)
He is dealing with tangible forms, and everything depends on the varied texture and the color of the surfaces. The fuzzy peach, the finely bloomed plum, the smooth apple, the glossy cherry, the dazzling rose, the bouquet of carnations, the brightly colored tulips—the artist will have perfect specimens of everything he desires available in his studio. He will place his objects in the most favorable light, and without conscious effort his eyes will learn to see the harmony of the brilliant colors. (Nardroff/Nardroff, 73)

In representing flowers and fruit, the imitator-artist learns about the properties of the natural objects that he copies without ever reaching a deeper level of insight. This lack of insight is what distinguishes him from the artist whose work has style: while the former is guided by appearances, the latter has gained profound knowledge of his objects and understands the plants’ development and metamorphosis as a botanist would. His artistic creation is therefore based less on taste than on knowledge:

Er wird alsdenn nicht bloß durch die Wahl aus den Erscheinungen seinen Geschmack zeigen, sondern er wird uns auch durch eine richtige Darstellung der Eigenschaften zugleich in Verwunderung setzen und belehren. In diesem Sinne würde man sagen können, er habe sich einen Styl gebildet; wie man von der andern Seite leicht einsehen kann, wie ein solcher Meister, wenn er es nicht gar so genau nähme, wenn er nur das auffallende, blendende leicht auszudrücken beflissen wäre, gar bald in die Manier übergehen würde. (FA 1.18:228-229)
He will not only show his taste by what he selects but will amaze and instruct us through the correct representation of the characteristic features. Here we could say that he has formed his own style. But it is also obvious that if such a master were not so conscientious and only concerned with the easy expression of the striking and dazzling, he would soon become a mannerist. (Nardroff/Nardroff,­ 73)

While Goethe states that he does not intend to diminish mannered art, he clearly favors simple imitation, which works “im Vorhofe des Stils” (FA 1.18:229 and Nardroff/Nardroff, 73; in the vestibule of style). Given the different affinities of simple imitation and manner to style, there has been some debate on the nature of the relation between the three terms. While Joachim Müller understands style as the dialectic synthesis that sublates the objectivity attained by simple imitation and the subjectivity foregrounded by manner into a mediation of subject and object, Claudia Kestenholz and Norbert Christian Wolf have pointed out that the formation of style does not necessarily require the antithetical stage presented by manner as it can be developed purely out of the continuous and intensive study and imitation of nature.17

Both in their devaluation of manner and their valorization of style, Goethe’s ideas are representative of the late eighteenth-century discourse on aesthetics. Nevertheless, in other respects, his ideas about style were at odds with those of his contemporaries. What is remarkable about his reflections is, first of all, the epistemological grounding of style. Style, for Goethe, fulfills a cognitive function insofar as it proceeds from the “tiefsten Grundfesten der Erkenntnis, auf dem Wesen der Dinge, in so fern uns erlaubt ist es in sichtbaren und greiflichen Gestalten zu erkennen” (FA 1.18:227 and Nardroff/Nardroff, 72; the fundamental principle of cognition, [. . .] the essence of things—to the extent that it is granted us to perceive this essence in visible and tangible form). Thus, while style may vary in accordance with its object of representation, it does not allow for individual variation. Consequently, the same fruit or birds could not be rendered in different styles. Through its commitment to a reflective objectivity grounded in scientific study and its acknowledgement of the irreducible limitations of human knowledge, Goethe’s concept circumvents the idea of style as an expression of individuality. Unlike manner, style in Goethe’s sense lends itself neither to individualization nor to pluralization—two operations that accompanied the rise of style throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. As a result, his classicist concept precludes a definition of style by way of characteristic attributes as seen in the Introduction. In the strict sense, an aesthetic representation that has style, according to Goethe, can only assume one form, which rules out the possibility of an object being rendered in several different and contingent styles. We can thus observe in Goethe’s 1789 essay the formulation of a concept of style that runs counter to a large part of the modern discourse, which presupposes that the modern artist has a multiplicity of styles—natural, artificial, versatile, and otherwise—at their disposal.

“Diderots Versuch über die Malerei”: Critique of Naturalism and the De-Personalization of Style

Goethe takes up the categories established in the 1789 essay in a less systematic fashion in his later writings on the theory of art. He discusses style and its relation to imitation and manner in his text “Diderots Versuch über die Malerei” (1798; Diderot’s Essay on Painting), which appeared in his journal Propyläen. One of the journal’s central aims was to reflect on the boundaries that separate nature from art. In his introduction to the Propyläen from 1798, Goethe notes that the artist should strive to create a work of art that resembles nature while respecting the fundamental differences that set both realms apart: “Die Natur ist von der Kunst durch eine ungeheure Kluft getrennt, welche das Genie selbst, ohne äußere Hülfsmittel, zu überschreiten nicht vermag” (FA 1.18:461 and Nardroff/Nardroff, 81; Nature is separated from art by an enormous chasm, which even genius cannot bridge without resorting to external means). Goethe goes on to specify that, in accepting art’s separation from nature, the artist should not withdraw into the sphere of aesthetic appearances but instead aspire to make his artwork appear “natürlich zugleich und übernatürlich” (FA 1.18:462 and Nardroff/Nardroff, 81; natural and at the same time [. . .] above nature).

It is in the context of these theoretical reflections on the relation between nature and art that Goethe presents a translation and commentary of Denis Diderot’s “Essai sur la peinture” (1766; Essay on Painting). Diderot’s consideration of the different modes of aesthetic representation in eighteenth-century painting grew out of his art criticism discussing the art exhibitions organized by the Paris Académie royale de Peinture et de Sculpture. In his essay, the French philosopher turns against the artificial mannerism championed by the Academy and argues instead for an aesthetic revaluation of naturalism in art. It is this call for a more natural art that Goethe objects to in the extensive commentary accompanying his translation of the French text. Goethe regards the blending of nature and art that Diderot extolls as the “principal sickness” of his contemporaries (cf. FA 1.12:434) and urges the artist to refrain from dissolving into nature: “Der Künstler muß den Kreis seiner Kräfte kennen, er muß innerhalb der Natur sich ein Reich bilden; er hört aber auf ein Künstler zu sein, wenn er mit in die Natur verfließen, sich in ihr auflösen will” (FA 1.12:434; The artist must be aware of the sphere of his powers, he must build a realm within nature; but he ceases to be an artist when he seeks to melt into nature, to dissolve in her). Goethe now introduces style into his considerations as an alternative both to the artificial mannerism that Diderot criticizes and to the naïve naturalism he champions. Goethe neither endorses mannerism nor considers uncritical naturalism sufficient for the creation of a work of art. Rather, he emphasizes that only style affords the artist a proper method to guide his choice of proportions and forms. Not even the genius, Goethe claims, could attain true artistic vision through the mere observation of nature or without the knowledge of artistic traditions. Goethe thus addresses Diderot directly in his commentary:

Doch das wirst du im Ernste selbst nicht leugnen, von dem Meister, von der Akademie, von der Schule, von der Antike, die du anklagst, daß sie das Manirierte veranlasse, kann eben so gut, durch eine richtige Methode, ein echter Styl verbreitet werden, ja, man darf wohl sagen: welches Genie der Welt wird, auf Einmal, durch das bloße Anschauen der Natur, ohne Überlieferung, sich zu Proportionen entscheiden, die echten Formen ergreifen, den wahren Styl erwählen und sich selbst eine alles umfassende Methode erschaffen? (FA 1.12:446)
But you will not seriously deny that the master, the academy, the school, Antiquity which you blame of causing mannerism, can just as well, through the right method, produce a genuine style, indeed, one might say: which of the world’s geniuses will, at once, through mere contemplation of nature, without tradition, turn to proportion, seize the proper forms, choose the true style and create by himself an all-encompassing method?

Goethe here sees art institutions and aesthetic norms rather than individual ingenuity or creativity as the principal facilitators of style. As the result of a methodical procedure that follows a certain set of rules, style is the perfection of a given genre rather than the work of an individual. This is why, according to Goethe, all artists who have style ultimately resemble one another; their works lose their distinctive traits and merge with those of other artists to form the highest expression of the genre:

Das Resultat einer echten Methode nennt man Styl, im Gegensatz der Manier. Der Styl erhebt das Individuum zum höchsten Punkt, den die Gattung zu erreichen fähig ist, deswegen nähern sich alle große Künstler einander in ihren besten Werken. So hat Rafael wie Tizian koloriert, da wo ihm die Arbeit am glücklichsten geriet. Die Manier hingegen individualisiert, wenn man so sagen darf, noch das Individuum. (FA 1.12:463-464)
The result of a true method is called style, in contrast to manner. Style elevates the individual to the highest point that genre can reach; this is why all great artists approximate one another in their best works. Thus Raphael colored like Titian where his work thrived most. Manner, however, individualizes, if one may say so, even the individual.

In his reflections on Diderot’s essay, Goethe takes up and modifies central premises of “Einfache Nachahmung der Natur, Manier, Styl.” In a departure from the 1789 essay, where he had approved of the simple imitation of nature as a crucial prerequisite for attaining artistic style, Goethe here devalues a naïve form of naturalism that he sees promoted by Diderot—a naturalism that threatens to blur the boundaries between nature and art. The assumption of style’s cognitive function, crucial to the 1789 remarks, is no longer relevant in the Diderot commentary, though it might be said to resurface in the idea of style as method—a deliberate procedure that occludes ingenious creation from the production of a work of art. In the Diderot commentary, the imitation of the great artists and the aesthetic tradition (imitatio auctoris) replaces the imitation of nature (imitatio naturae) that had served as the foundation for style in the 1789 essay. In his comprehensive contextualization of the 1789 and 1798 essays and their respective notions of style, Norbert Christian Wolf shows, however, that both understandings of “Nachahmung” go hand in hand for Goethe’s aesthetic thinking at the time and that ultimately, all three terms at stake—the simple imitation of nature, manner, and style—take imitation as their point of departure.18

What the 1789 and 1798 reflections on style have in common is that they conceive of style not as the expression of an artist’s individuality, for this would be manner, but as the perfection of aesthetic genre. In matters of style, all great artists are alike. As such, the concept’s primary purpose is not the description of individual artists and their artworks or their comparison or distinction; instead, it points to a state of artistic perfection in which individual creation and generic frame become indistinguishable.

Italienische Reise: Goethe’s Stylistic Testing Ground

Goethe’s concept of style as it is formulated in the 1789 essay and in the 1798 Diderot translation grew out of his journey to Italy between the years 1786 and 1788.19 The literary account of his travels—Italienische Reise (1816–17/1829; Italian Journey)—can be understood as a testing ground for different notions of style––namely, the historical-descriptive, the aesthetic-normative, the cognitive, and the impersonal concept of style.

The first two senses stake out the theory and aesthetics of classicism that would constitute the framework for much of Goethe’s artistic work in the following decade.20 There is, firstly, style as a category of historical knowledge. Goethe adopts this understanding from the writings of Johann Joachim Winckelmann, particularly the Geschichte der Kunst des Altertums (1764; History of the Art of Antiquity), which he studies extensively during his journey. Style in this sense serves a descriptive purpose. It allows the (art) historian to periodize the history of art or the work of an individual artist, and it enables the illumination of historical relationships through the identification and comparison of different styles.21 Goethe makes use of this notion of style in his extensive studies of ancient and early modern architects and artists such as Palladio, Guercino, Raffael and Michelangelo, in which style appears as the expression of an individual artist. From his study of Renaissance artists and the close examination of their models, the Ancients, Goethe derives a second notion of style that would later be carried over into the concept of style elaborated in the Diderot commentary––namely, style as an authoritative aesthetic norm. Style in this sense stands for a normative judgment about an artwork’s quality according to the aesthetic norm set by ancient Greek art and architecture––or, rather, the late eighteenth-century vision of it. In an entry from his first sojourn in Rome, dated January 28, 1787, Goethe respectively characterizes these two conceptions of style as a descriptive category sustaining historical thought and as a normative category legitimating aesthetic judgment:

Zwei Betrachtungen, die durch alles durchgehen, welchen sich hinzugeben man jeden Augenblick aufgefordert wird, will ich, da sie mir klar geworden, zu bezeichnen nicht verfehlen.
Zuerst also wird man bei dem ungeheuern und doch nur trümmerhaften Reichtum dieser Stadt, bei jedem Kunstgegenstande aufgefordert, nach der Zeit zu fragen, die ihm das Dasein gegeben. Durch Winkelmann sind wir dringend aufgeregt die Epochen zu sondern, den verschiedenen Styl zu erkennen dessen sich die Völker bedienten, den sie, in Folge der Zeiten, nach und nach ausgebildet und zuletzt wieder verbildet. [. . .]
Die zweite Betrachtung beschäftigt sich ausschließlich mit der Kunst der Griechen und sucht zu erforschen, wie jene unvergleichlichen Künstler verfuhren, um aus der menschlichen Gestalt den Kreis göttlicher Bildung zu entwickeln, welcher vollkommen abgeschlossen ist und worin kein Hauptcharakter so wenig als die Übergänge und Vermittlungen fehlen. Ich habe eine Vermutung, daß sie nach eben den Gesetzen verfuhren, nach welchen die Natur verfährt und denen ich auf der Spur bin. Nur ist noch etwas anders dabei, das ich nicht auszusprechen wüßte. (FA 1.15.1:178–79)
Everything I see around me suggests two line of inquiry which I shall not fail to pursue when I see my way more clearly:
At the sight of the immense wealth of this city, even though it consists of scattered fragments, one is inevitably led to ask about the age when it came into being. It was Winckelmann who first urged on us the need of distinguishing between various epochs and tracing the history of styles in their gradual growth and decadence. [. . .]
The second line of inquiry is concerned exclusively with the art of the Greeks: What was the process by which these incomparable artists evolved from the human body the circle of their god-like shapes, a perfect circle from which not one essential, incidental or transitional feature was lacking? My instinct tells me that they followed the same laws as Nature, and I believe I am on the track of these. But there is something else involved as well which I would not know how to express.22

Parallel to style as a category of historical knowledge and of aesthetic judgment, and in conjunction with his early morphological studies in the late 1780s, Goethe develops a third notion of style as an instrument of cognition. His Italian journey has often been described as the catalyst for Goethe’s turn towards a new kind of objectivity, or what has been called his “gegenständliches Denken”23 (object-oriented thinking), a kind of thinking that grants primacy to the recognized object in the process of cognition. “Gegenständliches Denken” requires a new language that tones down subjectivity in order to orient itself towards the objects to which it refers; in other words, it relies on a mode of linguistic representation that corresponds to the notion of style Goethe introduces in “Einfache Nachahmung der Natur, Manier, Styl.” Jane K. Brown has pointed out that Goethe’s turn to “gegenständliches Denken” and the formation of a corresponding literary style—“gegenständliche Dichtung” (FA 1.24:596; object-oriented poetry)—presupposed Goethe’s suppression of his own subjectivity, which he experimented with throughout his Italian journey. Goethe travelled incognito using pseudonyms to escape the fame that, after Werther, followed him through most of Europe. Brown argues that it is precisely the experience of impersonality that allowed Goethe to develop a new “Gegenständlichkeit” (object-orientedness) in his thinking and writing.24 “Ich mache diese wunderbare Reise nicht um mich selbst zu betrügen, sondern um mich an den Gegenständen kennen zu lernen,” he notes on September 17, 1786 (FA 1.15.1:49 and Auden/Mayer, 57; My purpose in making this wonderful journey is not to delude myself but to discover myself in the objects I see). From the deliberate concealment of his own person—a concealment that allowed for the inception of a new “Gegenständlichkeit”—Goethe derives a fourth notion of style not as an expression of individuality but as a means to mask personal traits. Goethe’s 1789 essay as well as his commentary on Diderot advance the idea of style as an anti-subjectivist, almost generic mode of artistic creation, relegating the articulation of individuality to manner.25 In many ways, the narrative of the Italienische Reise performs this notion of style by seeming to present an authentic portrait of its author while also masking significant parts of his identity. Goethe himself calls this state of “half-appearance” or partial concealment his “wunderliches und vielleicht grillenhaftes Halbinkognito” (FA 1.15.1:143 and Auden/Mayer, 136; [m]y peculiar and perhaps capricious semi-incognito) and explicitly relates it to his new practice of “gegenständliches Denken.”

Mein wunderliches und vielleicht grillenhaftes Halbinkognito, bringt mir Vorteile, an die ich nicht denken konnte. Da sich jedermann verpflichtet, zu ignorieren wer ich sei, und also auch niemand mit mir von mir reden darf, so bleibt den Menschen nichts übrig als von sich selbst oder von Gegenständen zu sprechen, die ihnen interessant sind, dadurch erfahr’ ich nun umständlich, womit sich ein jeder beschäftigt, oder was irgend merkwürdiges entsteht und hervorgeht. Hofrat Reifenstein fand sich auch in diese Grille da er aber den Namen den ich angenommen hatte, aus einer besondern Ursache nicht leiden konnte; so baronisierte er mich geschwind und ich heiße nun der Baron gegen Rondanini über, dadurch bin ich bezeichnet genug, um so mehr, als der Italiäner die Menschen nur nach den Vornamen oder Spitznamen benennet. Genug, ich habe meinen Willen und entgehe der unendlichen Unbequemlichkeit, von mir und meinen Arbeiten Rechenschaft geben zu müssen. (FA 1.15.1:143)
My peculiar and perhaps capricious semi-incognito has some unforeseen advantages. Since everyone feels it his duty to ignore my identity, no one can talk to me about me; so all they can do is talk about themselves and the objects which interest them. In consequence I get to know all about what everyone is doing and about everything worthwhile that is going on. Even Hofrat Reiffenstein respects my whim, but since for some reason of his own he dislikes the name I adopted, he soon made me a Baron and now I am known as The-Baron-who-lives-opposite-the-Rondanini. This title is sufficient because Italians always call people by their first names or their nicknames. This is the way I wanted it, and I escape the endless annoyance of having to give an account of myself and my writings. (Auden/Mayer, 136, modified translation)

Goethe goes only “half-way” incognito; since his new acquaintances know of or at least suspect his true identity, his disguise remains incomplete. Still, his cover forces them to interact with him as though he weren’t Goethe, consequently turning their attention to the objects at hand rather than to the identity of their interlocutor. Similarly, the entire text of the Italienische Reise can be read as a performance of Goethe’s “peculiar [. . .] semi-incognito.” For all its interest in various objects, which range from artworks to plants, the travel account is first and foremost concerned with the staging of the author’s Italian “rebirth”26 as he liked to call his transformation into a classicist. As much as Goethe is keen on dissimulating his identity, he is also intent on following the fabrication of several portraits of his that will convey his image to the outside world and to posterity. He comments on the progress of these portraits on several occasions. Among them is Johann Heinrich Wilhelm Tischbein’s famous painting Goethe in der Campagna (1787; Goethe in the Roman Campagna), of which Goethe approves (cf. FA 1.15.1:163), as well as a portrait by Angelica Kauffmann, which does not seem very promising to him—“Angelica malt mich auch, daraus wird aber nichts” (FA 1.15.1:378 and Auden/Mayer, 347; Angelica is also painting me, but her picture is not going to come off). Then, there is the marble bust created by the sculptor Alexander Trippel on behalf of prince Christian von Waldeck. On September 12, 1787, Goethe expresses his satisfaction with the effigy: “Meine Büste ist sehr gut geraten, jedermann ist damit zufrieden. Gewiß ist sie in einem schönen und edlen Styl gearbeitet, und ich habe nichts dagegen, daß die Idee, als hätte ich so ausgesehen, in der Welt bleibt” (FA 1.15.1:425 and Auden/Mayer, 386; My bust has turned out exceedingly well and everybody is satisfied with it. It is executed in a noble style, and I shall have no objection if posterity imagines I looked like that). Goethe praises the bust’s style, though not for its truthfulness; while he does not consider it to resemble him, he nevertheless appreciates the image it projects. The bust can be described as classicist, and consequently, as the realization of style as an aesthetic norm. At the same time, its style allows Goethe to fashion a new authorial persona that obscures the individual behind a classicist mask. It is style in this fourth sense of persona—a term originally used to designate theatrical masks—that recalls the conclusion of the Italienische Reise, in which Goethe participates in the Roman carnival and its play with masks.27 Style in this fourth sense allows a person to carry different names—given names as well as pseudonyms—and to switch between different sets of characters without necessarily identifying with any one of them, even if one’s portrait is literally set in stone as in the case of Trippel’s marble bust.

The notion of style as persona is not expressly formulated in the Italienische Reise. Rather, it is from a certain mode of self-presentation that the concept of style as an impersonal form emerges. Within the Italienische Reise, one can distinguish between the theoretical concepts of style that are explicitly articulated in the text and the stylistic practices that implicitly generate certain concepts of style. While Goethe explicitly dwells on style as a category of historical knowledge and as an aesthetic norm, other notions of style such as style as an instrument of cognition or as a form of de-personalization only become visible on the level of textual forms and narratives.

The different notions of style enter Goethe’s aesthetic and theoretical reflections in various ways. Though style in its descriptive function, enabling historical periodization, does not play a central role in the 1789 essay, it is certainly pivotal for Goethe’s interest in the history of art and motivates his work on classicist projects like the Propyläen. Style as an aesthetic norm, which calls upon the artist to take a stance toward the aesthetic tradition, recurs in the Diderot translation and commentary. The concept of style developed in “Einfache Nachahmung der Natur, Manier, Styl” picks up on the idea of style as a means of cognition and is related to “gegenständliches Denken.” This sense of style is, in turn, associated with the conception of style as a generic form that largely suppresses individual traits—an idea that resurfaces both in the 1789 and in the 1798 remarks on style.

The Beginnings of Late Style

As a means to describe historical evolution, the concept of style has been employed to distinguish between different periods of Goethe’s work. His late style is traditionally portrayed as a turn away from his early interest in the particular as well as from his attempt, made in the ‘mature’ work, to reconcile the particular with the general, in order to address what Erich Trunz calls the “allgemeine Dinge des Lebens” (general things of life).28 In his remarks on the late Beethoven, Theodor W. Adorno similarly describes the ageing of style as the gradual retreat of the author’s subjectivity from the creative process. He considers Goethe’s Faust II (1832) and Wilhelm Meisters Wanderjahre (1821/1829; Wilhelm Meister’s Journeyman Years) to be exemplary of late style insofar as they display the subject’s acknowledgement of its own obsolescence:

Die Gewalt der Subjektivität in den späten Kunstwerken ist die auffahrende Geste, mit welcher sie die Kunstwerke verläßt. [. . .] Vom Tode berührt, gibt die meisterliche Hand die Stoffmassen frei, die sie zuvor formte; die Risse und Sprünge darin, Zeugnis der endlichen Ohmacht des Ichs vorm Seienden, sind ihr letztes Werk. Darum der Stoffüberschuß im zweiten Faust und in den Wanderjahren, darum die Konventionen, die von Subjektivität nicht mehr durchdrungen und bewältigt, sondern stehen gelassen sind.29
The power of subjectivity in the late works of art is the irascible gesture with which it takes leave of the works themselves. [. . .] Touched by death, the hand of the master sets free the masses of material that he used to form; its tears and fissures, witnesses to the finite powerlessness of the I confronted with Being, are its final work. Hence the overabundance of material in Faust II and in the Wanderjahre, hence the conventions that are no longer penetrated and mastered by subjectivity, but simply left to stand.30

This account of Goethe’s late style and the narrative it implies—one of the subject’s gradual withdrawal from the objective world that surrounds it—raises the question as to how it relates to the use and the concept of style developed in the late 1780s. Can late style be considered a continuation of the classicist concept of style, or does it represent a rupture in Goethe’s writing and thinking?

The beginnings of Goethe’s late style have been ascribed to different turning points in his life.31 Some see it emerge after the death of Christiane Vulpius in 1816, while others date it to Schiller’s death in 1805 or even to the early 1800s. Eva Geulen dates its inception even earlier, to the year 1789.32 In her reading of Goethe’s short text “Bedeutende Fördernis durch ein einziges geistreiches Wort” (1823; Significant Progress Through a Single Ingenious Word), Geulen frames the emergence of Goethe’s late style as a reaction to the French Revolution, which radically challenged his “gegenständliche Dichtung” (object-oriented poetry) by frustrating any attempt at transforming the event of the revolution into an aesthetic object. “Schau ich in die vielen Jahre zurück, so seh ich klar wie die Anhänglichkeit an diesen unübersehlichen Gegenstand [i.e., the French Revolution] so lange Zeit her mein poetisches Vermögen fast unnützerweise aufgezehrt,” Goethe observes (FA 1.24:597; When I look back all those years, I see clearly how my devotion to this perplexing object [i.e., the French Revolution] has, for such a long time, almost uselessly consumed my aesthetic powers). The French Revolution—a “Gegenstand” in the proper sense, as Geulen notes—brings “gegenständliche Dichtung” (object-oriented poetry) and its corresponding concept of style to an early end, thus initiating his late style.33 In the 1789 essay, which was published in February of that year, a few months before the French Revolution, “Gegenständlichkeit” (object-orientedness) itself is not (yet) quite at stake. In it, Goethe demonstrates that for the artist who “has style,” grasping the objects at hand is a largely unproblematic procedure, although skeptical undertones can be detected even here. While the representation of flowers and plants “in proper style” requires extensive scientific study as well as the willingness to immerse oneself in the objects of observation, the painter who acquires botanical training and allows the objects to enter his own mind will eventually be able to recognize and represent their very essence—“in so fern uns erlaubt ist es [das Wesen der Dinge] in sichtbaren und greiflichen Gestalten zu erkennen” (FA 1.18:227 and Nardroff/Nardroff, 72; to the extent that it is granted us to perceive this essence [the essence of things] in visible and tangible form”). However, in other respects, this ‘pre-revolutionary’ concept of style can be considered to anticipate late style more explicitly with its predilection for generic convention and its tendency to de-individualize style. What links Goethe’s 1789 notion to his late style is the idea of style as a mode of representation that liberates the individual from the demand of self-expression and submits it to the norms of genre and aesthetic convention. The Italienische Reise, with its minute observations on the fabrication of Goethe’s own portraits, demonstrates the very petrification of subjectivity that, according to Adorno, underlies the emergence of late style.34 By rendering middle and late style in some respects indistinguishable, the classicist concept of style undermines the periodization of Goethe’s work and thus largely resists philological application.

Beyond Modernity

Goethe’s late style, with its tendency to allegory, laconism, and the juxtaposition of disparate elements, perplexed many of his contemporaries and is considered by many to be an isolated phenomenon in the realm of nineteenth-century aesthetics.35 The manifest untimeliness of the late Goethe has often been reframed as an ingenious anticipation of modern art and aesthetics, but the style of the classicist period has also been recognized for its inherent modernity. Bernhard Böschenstein, for instance, sees the artificiality of Goethe’s language in Die natürliche Tochter (1803; The Natural Daughter) as a prefiguration of the formalist aesthetics that emerged in the early twentieth century.36 Karl Heinz Bohrer even regards Goethe’s classicist work, which according to him has received little attention in German literature and culture, as the inception of an alternative modernity.37 He accords the aesthetic operations of the classicist period—stylization, masking, mythicization—the potential to escape dominant ideologies, such as the interpretive patterns in the early nineteenth-century philosophy of history. Scholars have highlighted the modernity not just of Goethe’s classicist writing style but also of the concept of style he developed as part of his classicist aesthetics. Norbert Christian Wolf has drawn attention to the parallels between Goethe’s theoretical reflections on style and those of Gustave Flaubert, who formulated one of the most prominent modern concepts of style in his novel Madame Bovary. Wolf points out that Goethe and Flaubert shared the demand for style’s fundamental “Gegenständlichkeit” (object-orientedness), which it attains by becoming transparent and impersonal.38 In Goethe’s idea of a de-individualized style, Wolf sees the prefiguration of the famous impassibilité of Flaubert’s prose.

While Goethe’s concept of style thus in some ways lays the groundwork for a specifically modern aesthetics, it also differs significantly from the modern discourse on style in other respects. The idea of style as a non-individual, generic mode of aesthetic representation entails an absolutization of style that constitutes the flipside of the stylistic pluralization that can be observed in modern aesthetics. As Claudia Kestenholz notes, Goethe’s concept of style in “Einfache Nachahmung der Natur, Manier, Styl” does not allow for its own characterization through the identification of distinctive traits. On the contrary, it defies all descriptive attributes, whether in the form of adjectival qualifications (“natural,” “artificial,” “versatile”) or through affiliation in the genitive (“the style of x”), thereby advancing the idea of style as an apodictic aesthetic judgment.39 Style as “pure emphasis,” as Kestenholz puts it, does not designate a specific aesthetic property but rather identifies aesthetic quality as such.40 This rendering absolute of style puts Goethe’s concept in opposition to the proliferation and consequent relativization of styles that, to a large extent, shapes modern aesthetics.41 Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht associates this pluralization of styles with the modern experience of a “schwindende Stabilität der Wirklichkeit”42 (dwindling stability of reality). According to Gumbrecht, Goethe’s concept of style emerged at a time when art had not yet given up on the attempt to align style with object––in other words, a time when there was still the hope of finding the one style to capture reality (a hope Gumbrecht defines as the driving force behind nineteenth-century realist literature43). It is this prospect of an absolute style that separates Goethe’s 1789 concept of style from modern definitions that allow for the representation of reality in myriad styles, or it can be interpreted as the emergence of a different modernity, as Karl Heinz Bohrer suggests.


The late 1780s were a formative period for the development of Goethe’s concept of style as well as for the elaboration of his literary style. The Italienische Reise is a testing ground for various notions of style that take shape both explicitly in theoretical reflections and implicitly through stylistic practice: the historical-descriptive and the normative-aesthetic notions of style together constitute the tense and dynamic framework of Goethe’s classicist aesthetics. Style as a method of cognition is closely related to the anti-subjectivist practice of masking one’s own identity. The different notions of style at work in the Italienische Reise are to some extent consolidated in the 1789 essay “Einfache Nachahmung der Natur, Manier, Styl,” which promotes the idea of style’s cognitive function. In the 1798 translation and commentary of Diderot’s “Essai sur la peinture,” style becomes a means to critique excessive individualism as well as naïve naturalism. Still, Goethe’s thoughts on style cannot be drawn into one coherent concept, for there are differences between the concepts of style formulated in 1789 and 1798 as well as between the various concepts at work in the Italienische Reise. Some of these concepts can be employed to describe and interpret Goethe’s own style(s): the historical-descriptive notion provides a template for the characterization of Goethe’s language as ‘natural’ or ‘artificial’ or for the periodization of his stylistic development according to a progression of early, middle, and late style. Other notions largely defy their philological operationalization, as does the idea of style as absolute aesthetic quality which refutes fundamental premises of the modern discourse on style as it emerged in the late eighteenth century, namely, the individualization, pluralization, and relativization of styles.

  1. Hans-Georg Gadamer, “Die Natürlichkeit von Goethes Sprache: Ein Kongressbeitrag,” Gesammelte Werke, vol. 9: Ästhetik und Poetik II: Hermeneutik im Vollzug (Tübingen: J.C.B. Mohr, 1999), 131.
  2. Ibid. 130.
  3. See Friedrich Schiller, “Ueber Naive und sentimentalische Dichtung,” in Schillers Werke. Nationalausgabe, total no vols: Philosophische Schriften. Erster Teil, ed. Benno von Wiese and Helmut Koopmann (Weimar: Böhlau, 1962), 20.1: 413–503.
  4. Bernhard Böschenstein, “Hoher Stil als Indikator der Selbstbezweiflung der Klassik: Eine Lektüre von Goethes ‘Natürlicher Tochter,’” in Das Subjekt der Dichtung: Festschrift für Gerhard Kaiser, ed. Gerhard Buhr, Friedrich A. Kittler, and Horst Turk (Würzburg: Königshausen & Neumann, 1990), 243–63, here 247.
  5. Karl Heinz Bohrer, Großer Stil: Form und Formlosigkeit in der Moderne (Munich: Hanser, 2007), 120.
  6. On the formation of Goethe’s late style in his collaboration with Johann Peter Eckermann, see Bernhard Greiner, “Das projektive Bild des ‘späten Goethe’: Johann Peter Eckermanns Gespräche mit Goethe,” in Altersstile im 19. Jahrhundert, ed. Gerhard Neumann and Günter Oesterle (Würzburg: Königshausen & Neumann, 2014), 21–36.
  7. Johann Peter Eckermann, Beyträge zur Poesie mit besonderer Hinweisung auf Goethe (Stuttgart: Cotta’sche Buchhandlung, 1824), 48.
  8. English translations are the author’s unless indicated otherwise.
  9. See the entry “Stil” in Goethe-Lexikon, ed. Gero von Wilpert (Stuttgart: Alfred Kröner Verlag, 1998), 1022–23.
  10. Friedrich Schlegel, “Gespräch über die Poesie,” in Kritische Friedrich Schlegel Ausgabe, ed. Hans Eichner, vol. 1.2/1, Charakteristiken und Kritiken 1 (Munich/Paderborn/Wien: Ferdinand Schöningh, 1967), 284–362, here 341.
  11. Cf. Norbert Christian Wolf, “Einfache Nachahmung der Natur, Manier, Stil,” in Goethe-Handbuch in vier Bänden, ed. Andreas Beyer and Ernst Osterkamp, vol. 3: Kunst (Stuttgart: J.B. Metzler, 2011), 303–17, here 304–5, as well as Norbert Christian Wolf, Streitbare Ästhetik: Goethes kunst- und literaturtheoretische Schriften (Tübingen: Max Niemeyer, 2001), 330–37.
  12. For a comprehensive contextualization of Goethe’s essay in eighteenth-century aesthetic theory see Wolf, Streitbare Ästhetik, 263–408.
  13. Ursula Link-Heer, “Maniera. Überlegungen zur Konkurrenz von Manier und Stil (Vasari, Diderot, Goethe),” in Stil. Geschichten und Funktionen eines kulturwissenschaftlichen Diskurselements, ed. Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht and K. Ludwig Pfeiffer (Frankfurt a.M.: Suhrkamp, 1986), 93–114, here 93–94.
  14. Ibid., 95.
  15. Cf. For an overview of Goethe’s stance towards the aesthetic concept and practice of “Nachahmung” which changes over the course of his Italian Journey from a polemical attitude to a more affirmative approach see Ingeborg Schmidt, “Nachahmung,” in Goethe-Handbuch in vier Bänden, ed. Hans-Dietrich Dahnke and Regine Otto, vol. 4.2: Personen, Sachen, Begriffe: L-Z (Stuttgart: J.B. Metzler, 1998), 737–40, here 738.
  16. Johann Wolfgang Goethe, Essays on Art and Literature, ed. John Gearey, trans. Ellen von Nardroff and Ernest H. von Nardroff (Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 1986), 71.
  17. Cf. Joachim Müller, “Goethes Italienerlebnis, sein Stilbegriff von 1789 als Erkenntnispostulat und die Voraussetzungen seines Menschenbildes in der Winckelmannschrift,” in Philosophie und Humanismus. Beiträge zum Menschenbild der deutschen Klassik, ed. Bolko Schweinitz (Weimar: Hermann Böhlaus Nachfolger, 1978), 140–59, here 147; Claudia Kestenholz, “Emphase des Stils: Begriffsgeschichtliche Erläuterungen zu Goethes Aufsatz über ‘Einfache Nachahmung der Natur, Manier, Stil,’” Comparatio: Revue Internationale de Littérature Comparée 2/3 (1991): 35–56, here 43; Wolf, Streitbare Ästhetik, 339.
  18. Cf. Wolf, Streitbare Ästhetik, 341–51.
  19. Cf. Müller, “Goethes Italienerlebnis,” 140–59.
  20. On the dynamics of normativity and historicity as a fundamental pattern of the theory of classicism see Wilhelm Vosskamp, “Einleitung,” in Theorie der Klassik, ed. Wilhelm Vosskamp (Stuttgart: Reclam, 2009), 9–24.
  21. On Goethe’s concept of style as a model for modern art history see Erik Forssman, Einfache Nachahmung der Natur, Manier, Stil: Goethes kunstgeschichtliche Grundbegriffe (Freiburg i.B.: Rombach, 2005), 58–59.
  22. Johann Wolfgang Goethe, Italian Journey [1786–88], translated by W.H. Auden and Elizabeth Mayer (London: Penguin Books, 1970), 167–68.
  23. See “Bedeutende Fördernis durch ein einziges geistreiches Wort” (FA 1.24: 595–99; Significant Progress through a Single Ingenious Word). Goethe adopts the terminology from the physician and psychiatrist Johann Christian August Heinroth.
  24. Cf. Jane K. Brown, “Objektivität und Stil: Goethes dichterische Neubelebung in Italien,” Ironie und Objektivität: Aufsätze zu Goethe (Würzburg: Königshausen & Neumann, 1999), 33–50, as well as Norbert Christian Wolf, “Ästhetische Objektivität: Goethes und Flauberts Konzept des Stils,” Poetica 34/1-2 (2002): 125–69.
  25. On the anti-subjectivist tendencies of Goethe’s classicist and post-classicist aesthetics cf. Wolf, Streitbare Ästhetik, 358.
  26. See for instance FA 1.15.1:158: “ich zähle einen zweiten Geburtstag, eine wahre Wiedergeburt, von dem Tage, da ich Rom betrat.” (Auden/Mayer, 148; I reckon my second life, a very rebirth, from the day when I entered Rome.)
  27. Cf. Gabi Ziegler-Happ, Das Spiel des Stils: Interpretation von Goethes Stilbegriff vor dem Hintergrund von Schillers Spieltheorie (Frankfurt a.M./Bern/New York/Paris: Peter Lang, 1989), 8.
  28. Cf. Erich Trunz, “Goethes Altersstil,” in Erich Trunz, Ein Tag aus Goethes Leben: 8 Studien zu Leben und Werk (Munich: C.H. Beck, 1990), 139–46, here 139.
  29. Theodor W. Adorno, “Spätstil Beethovens,” in Theodor W. Adorno, Gesammelte Schriften, ed. Rolf Tiedemann, vol. 17: Musikalische Schriften IV: Moments musicaux. Impromptus (Frankfurt a.M.: Suhrkamp, 1982), 13–17, here 15–16.
  30. Theodor W. Adorno, “Late Style in Beethoven,” in Theodor W. Adorno, Essays on Music, ed. Richard Leppert, trans. Susan H. Gillespie (Berkeley/Los Angeles/London: University of California Press, 2002), 564–68, here 566.
  31. On the difficulty of defining late styles see Sandro Zanetti, Avantgardismus der Greise? Spätwerke und ihre Poetik (Munich: Wilhelm Fink, 2012).
  32. Cf. Eva Geulen, “Unverfügbarkeit. Überlegungen zum Spätstil (Goethe, Adorno, Kommerell),” in Goethes Spätwerk, ed. Kai Sina and David E. Wellbery (Berlin/Boston: De Gruyter, 2020), 15–23, here 20–21.
  33. Cf. Geulen, “Unverfügbarkeit,” 21: “Die Revolution konnte gegenständliche Dichtung nicht werden, weil dieses Ereignis keinen Eindruck hinterließ, sondern ein Gegenstand im strikten Sinn war und blieb. Er trat Goethe widerständig gegenüber und war nach Maßgabe seiner Mittel und Möglichkeiten literarisch nicht zu assimilieren.”
  34. Cf. Adorno, “Spätstil Beethovens,” 16.
  35. Cf. Trunz, “Goethes Altersstil,” 144, and Geulen, “Unverfügbarkeit,” 22. An interesting alternative to this view of Goethe’s late isolation has recently been proposed by Jane K. Brown who sees Goethe’s late style as contemporaneous with Biedermeier art and philosophy. Cf. Jane K. Brown, “The Biedermeier Goethe. Altersstil und Zeitaltersstil,” in Goethes Spätwerk, ed. Kai Sina and David E. Wellbery (Berlin/Boston: De Gruyter, 2020), 25–42.
  36. Böschenstein, “Hoher Stil als Indikator der Selbstbezweiflung der Klassik,” 262.
  37. Bohrer, Großer Stil, 120–45.
  38. Wolf, “Ästhetische Objektivität,” 143–44.
  39. Kestenholz, “Emphase des Stils,” 46.
  40. Ibid., 53. Kestenholz sees a return of this emphatic idea of style in the Jugendstil movement of the early twentieth century. Cf. ibid., 38.
  41. For overviews of the modern aesthetic discourse on style see Hans-Georg Soeffner, Jürgen Raab, “Stil,” in Ästhetische Grundbegriffe: Historisches Wörterbuch in sieben Bänden, ed. Karlheinz Barck, Martin Fontius, Dieter Schlenstedt, Burkhart Steinwachs, Friedrich Wolfzettel, vol. 5: Postmoderne – Synästhesie (Stuttgart/Weimar: J.B Metzler, 2010): 641–702, as well as Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht, “Stil,” in Reallexikon der deutschen Literaturwissenschaft, ed. Georg Braungart, Harald Fricke, Klaus Grubmüller, Jan-Dirk Müller, Friedrich Vollhardt, Klaus Weimar vol. 3: P–Z (Berlin/Boston: De Gruyter, 2007), 509–13. Soeffner and Raab explain that the modern use of the term style implies a choice between a plurality of styles; Gumbrecht assumes that the modern notion of style is based on the contingency of aesthetic forms.
  42. Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht, “Schwindende Stabilität der Wirklichkeit. Eine Geschichte des Stilbegriffs,” in Stil. Geschichten und Funktionen eines kulturwissenschaftlichen Diskurselements, ed. Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht and K. Ludwig Pfeiffer (Frankfurt a.M.: Suhrkamp, 1986), 726–88.
  43. Cf. ibid., 762.

Works Cited and Further Reading