Schattenriss (Silhouette)

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Catriona MacLeod


The lexeme Schattenriss (silhouette) refers to an object that is suggestive of why materiality matters to Goethe’s philosophical thought. It touches on several intellectual and aesthetic areas, including semiotics (natural versus arbitrary signs), art, physiognomy, anthropology, color theory, and epistemology. A popular reproductive artform of the late eighteenth century, the silhouette entered into Goethe’s own collecting and artistic practices already in the 1770s. Collaboration with Johann Caspar Lavater (1741–1801) extended the significance of the silhouette profile into the scientific arena and built on Enlightenment visual agendas. The Schattenriss is also connected with eighteenth-century theories of mimesis and representation that concern related terms like Umriss (outline, contour) and also appear in Goethe’s aesthetic writings. In his later work on color theory and the art-making activities of the Johanna Schopenhauer salon, however, Goethe focuses on the shadowy interior and the colorful shades of the shadow rather than the static line of the Umriss to take the silhouette into striking new scientific and aesthetic territory.

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How to Cite
MacLeod, C. “Schattenriss (Silhouette)”. Goethe-Lexicon of Philosophical Concepts, Vol. 1, no. 1, Jan. 2021, doi:10.5195/glpc.2021.20.