Philipp Otto Runge's Tageszeiten and their relationship to romantic nature philosophy.
[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.]
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. It is nevertheless clear that Brentano's verses focus like Runge's drawings on the inter-relationship between transcendent eternity and terrestrial corporeality, between divine "spirit" and the temporal phenomena in which it is clothed, symbolized in both cases by the timeless brilliance of the stars on the one hand and the ephemeral opulence of earthly flora on the other. In Runge's drawings the framework panels embody "eternity" and the internal scenes "time," suggesting the same kind of mysterious dualism as implied in Brentano's incantation.
Direct influence is however demonstrable in the case of Novalis, from whose "Abendmahlhynme" Runge quotes in his correspondence (HS 2: 211) and whose Heinrich von Ofterdingen he mentions in a letter of October 1803. (6) The following passage from "Klingsohrs Mairchen" in Heinrich von Ofterdingen seems to offer a kind of anticipatory pastiche of a whole range of images and motifs in Runge's drawings:
Eine wunderschone Blume schwanma glanzend auf den sanften Wogen. Ein glainzender Bogen schloss sich uber die Flut auf welchem gottliche Gestalten auf prachtigen Thronen nach beiden Seiten herunter, sassen [...] Ein Lilienblatt bog sich fiber den Kelch der schwimmenden Blume; die kleine Fabel sass auf demselben, und sang zur Haffe die sussesten Lieder. In dem Kelche lag Eros selbst, uber ein schones schlummerndes Madchen hergebeugt, die ihn fest umschlungen hielt. Eine kleinere Blute schloss sich um beide her, so dass sie von den Huften an in eine Blume verwandelt zu sein schienen. (7) [A wondrous beautiful flower floated and shone on the gentle waves. A shining arch met above the water on which divine figures sat on magnificent thrones, reaching down on both sides (...) A lily leaf was bending over the calyx of the floating flower; little Fable sat on it singing the sweetest songs and playing the harp. In the calyx lay Eros himself, leaning over a slumbering girl who held him tightly embraced. A smaller blossom was wrapped around both of them, so that from the hips they seemed transformed into one flower.]
Here, as in Runge's work, children make music in the midst of resplendent vegetation and embody earthly forces, poetry and love. Above them divine forms on thrones preside symmetrically on both sides as representatives of the transcendent.
The parallels with romantic authors could be multiplied, but for present purposes just one more, but a particularly significant one, needs to be cited: Joseph von Eichendorff. The following passages are taken from Das Marmorbild, (8) first published in 1819:
(1) [...]es gibt noch [...] ein stilles Gluck, das sich vor dem lauten Tage verschlielsst und nur dem Stemenhimmel den heiligen Kelch offnet wie eine Blume, in der ein Engel wohnt [...]
[there remains a silent happiness which seeks seclusion from the loud day and opens its sacred calyx only to the celestial heavens, like a flower housing an angel]
(2) Die Rose seh ich gehn aus gruner Klause, Und, wie so buhlerisch die Lufte facheln, Errotend in die blaue Luft sich dehnen. [I see the rose emerge from its green cell, And, as the breezes fan so amorously, It opens up blushing into the blue air]
(3) Welter in der Ferne [...] erhoben sich hin und her schone Maidchen, wie aus Mittagstraumen erwachend, aus den Blumen, schuttelten die dunkeln Locken aus der Stirn, wuschen sich die Augen in den klaren Springbrunnen, und mischten sich dann auch in den frohlichen Schwarm.
[Farther in the distance beautiful girls arose here and there from flowers, as if awaking from noontide dreams, shook their brown locks from their brows, washing their eyes in the clear fountains, mingling then in the merry crowd.]
Burgeoning roses, opening flowers, angels and girls emerging from blooms: the images are the same as in Runge's work, and here too not simply as rococo conceits but in the form of anthropomorphized nature as a representation of earthly paradise in all its seductive glory. It may be observed in general about Eichendorff that he characteristically structures his depictions of human experience around the times of day, endowing them with the same spiritual meanings as in Runge's drawings: the morning as the moment of regeneration or salvation, midday as the period of human temptation and lapse, night as the time of vulnerability and threat. The line of influence from Runge to Eichendorff is well established: it passes through Josef Gorres, whose class interpreting Runge's four drawings in speculative and naturphilosophisch fashion was attended by Eichendorff at Heidelberg University in 1807.
There are more profound and more instructive similarities between Eichendorff's work and Runge's drawings which will be explored later. The literary parallels noted so far do however invite certain questions. What in Runge's drawings, thematically and beyond merely pictorial resemblances, does he share with German romantic writers? What are his-and their--common sources? What insights into German romantic thought, into its core beliefs but also its contradictions, can be gained from such a comparison? What led Runge to seek to carry out, in visual form, the task of creating the new romantic mythology that Friedrich Schlegel in the journal Athenaum had declared to be so imperative? These questions can only be approached through a close analysis of the four drawings.
As indicated above, it is immaterial which drawing is considered first. Gorres in his exegesis, or more exactly his rhapsody, began with Nacht, and there is much to commend this approach. For the regeneration of morning and spring cannot be fully comprehended without some grasp of the torpor and hibernation of the night and winter preceding them. The drawing Nacht shows this suspension of activity and thus, like its "counterpart" Tag, represents an extended state, not a momentary transition. In the upper half of this drawing the goddess of night ensures a period of darkness and stasis and presides over it, herself seated on a poppy or rather issuing from it, merged with it, the poppy transformed into a personification of the spirit of sleep. It is evident here, as elsewhere in the cycle of drawings, that Runge's landscapes are almost entirely allegorical, assemblages of figures and images from the natural world without regard to scale and the restrictions of empirical topography and botany. The poppy is larger than the stylized children sitting on it, and the moon is a notional disc. The lower half of the picture seems spatially unconnected with the top, united with it only by the dominating influence of queen poppy or night.
In this opiate state terrestrial animation is suspended and human beings do not participate, as they do at other times or seasons, in the wondrous processes of nature. Their sleep, enveloped in the gloom of nocturnal vegetation, is akin to death, for sleep, as suggested also in Novalis's Hymnen an die Nacht, is the half-brother of death. Indeed, if the four Zeiten are to be viewed also as stages in the mortal lifespan, as Runge's brother Daniel asserted (HS 2:472 ff), then night and death are correlates. Equally, if the four drawings also represent the four phases of the organic life-cycle, Nacht portrays the period when, to quote Runge himself in a letter of 1806, all natural phenomena have succumbed to a process of "versinken" [decline or descent[, when in seasonal terms life has undergone a "vernichtend" [destructive] stage (HS 1: 66, 69). Moreover, night is not only a state of oblivion, it is a phase when in the dense undergrowth nightmare lurks in the form of sinister plant life, or as Runge himself put it, "wo aus der Finsterniss Aurikeln wie Eulenaugen heraussehen, Fingerhutsblumen, die so ein schief Maul ziehen, Storchschnabel, Distelkopfe und allerley wunderliche Gestalten" [where from the gloom there stare out bear's ears (primula auricula) like the eyes of owls, foxgloves pulling crooked faces, cranes' bills, thistle heads, and all manner of curious figures] (HS 1: 32).
However, in this state of temporary oblivion and latent threat human beings need not despair. For their temporal world, even in the nocturnal period of extinction, is literally contained within a framework, the reassuring certainty of divine protection which is expressed through the symbolism of the four border panels of Nacht. At the top the dove, that is, god the holy spirit, radiates benevolence and in turn receives the adulation of angels or winged cherubs, whilst in the bottom panel the olive branches of peace burn in a fire which illuminates the universe through the hours of terrestrial darkness. Runge summarized the import of this drawing as "Erkenntniss yon der unvertilgten Existenz in Gott" [perception of existence in god unobliterated] (HS 1: 82). Human existence remains intact, safely enclosed in divine love during the phase when on earth it is threatened with annihilation, and secure in the expectation that night will surely be followed by morning and with it awakening and regeneration. The sleeping figures of Nacht, so Runge wrote in another letter, are "der Liebe und des Schutzes gewiss, die von oben kommen, erwartend die Klarheit des Unendlichen, das fiber uns ewig und ruhig ist" [sure of the love and protection which come from above, anticipating the clarity of the infinite which is everlasting and tranquil above us] (HS 1: 69).
Morgen then shows this renewal of infinite light, the daily creation or recreation of our planet, adumbrated by the curvature of the earth at the bottom of the internal picture. The creation is thus not one finished act in the biblical past but a continually recurring event. Morgen shows this event, not therefore the whole period of morning, but a moment of transition, sunrise and the dispersal of dawn mist. The rising of the sun is equated to the ascension of the lily, which is a symbol not only of light and brightness but also of purity and innocence, the embodiment of the regeneration of the earth. Each day creation rises anew in pristine splendor, manifested in the lavish disgorging of roses from the inverted lily stems and celebrated by the joyous music-making of the four children seated on them. In this drawing too the strongly allegorical nature of Runge's drawings is apparent, for the spectacle of ascension and illumination takes place in an indeterminate stratosphere with both children and flowers apparently detached from the earth and completely out of scale in proportion to the segment of the globe below them. The sense of resurrection and triumph over the death of night, or of spring reviving nature after hibernation, is confirmed in religious terms, as in Nacht, by the symbolism of the framework panels. At the bottom a pair of torches is inverted, for both Schiller ("Die Gotter Griechenlands") and Novalis (Hymnen an die Nacht) a symbol of mortality derived from Lessing's essay Wie die Alten den Tod gebildet haben (1769). (9) Yet here the torches are enclosed by the snake swallowing its own tail, the ouriboros, the Egyptian symbol of eternity. Runge follows Friedrich Schlegel's injunction to compile a modern mythology as a conscious contrivance, by eclectically assembling elements from the widest variety of existing myth and poetry, making it "das kunstlichste aller Kunstwerke" (10) [the most artificial of all artefacts, the most contrived of all works of art]. Runge's conclusion seems however to be in line with Christian doctrine: god's infinity encompasses and overcomes human mortality. In the top panel too god the father, portrayed simply by the Hebrew word Jehovah and surrounded by the heavenly hosts in the shape of a myriad of angelic faces, emits splendor like the holy spirit in Nacht and is worshipped by angels kneeling in a posture of prayer.
Tag, the equivalent of summer, or in the organic life-cycle the phase of full growth and ripeness, offers a spectacle of sumptuous vegetation. The madonna figure in the garlanded bower is the human participant in this pageant of fertility and procreation, embracing the infants at her breast. At the same time she is, as Runge himself observed, mother earth, surrounded by nature at its most abundant. The sun, in the form of the lily, has reached its zenith, and it is noon or midsummer. Divine creation has now found its fullest embodiment in the phenomenal world. In Runge's own words Tag embodies "die granzenlose Gestaltung der Creatur" [the boundless bodying forth of the creature world] (HS 1: 82). Accordingly in this drawing the figures are less one-dimensional and ethereal than the flat abstractions of the other three drawings and more closely resemble real human beings in their physical incarnation, their Kreaturlichkeit. Moreover Tag, certainly in its bottom half, comes closer than any of the other drawings to a mimetic depiction of a natural scene, notwithstanding the exaggerated proportions of some of the plants. (11) This is no accident, for Tag represents, albeit in poetic and stylized form, human society, and thus the loss of innocence. If Morgen portrays the daily repetition of the creation, Tag shows the daily repetition of the fall. In Tag the idyll of natural harmony as shown in Morgen, the paradise of existence shaped only by the organic cycle, is debased and corrupted by divisive human labor. The two children in the center of the picture, the male and female previously united in the loving pairs of Nacht and the embracing clusters of Morgen, go their separate ways to carry out their gender-determined roles: the female to the left towards the flax in order to weave, the male to the right towards the corn and thus to cultivating crops. The adversity and discomfort of their daily exertions is marked by the stinging nettles and thistles which block their paths, whilst the tenuous nature of their mutual affection under these distressing circumstances is indicated by the forget-me-not to which they both cling momentarily before their ineluctable parting.
In this drawing too the terrestrial events of the interior picture are given a transcendent gloss by the symbols in the frame panels. At the bottom the angel with the flaming sword bars fallen humanity from the entry to paradise, as in Genesis. Although god the trinity surrounded by the rainbow of peace remains at the apex, still radiantly benevolent, in an earlier sketch for this drawing Runge showed tablets of stone with the ten commandments in the side panels and forked lightning descending from them, evidently to express divine anger at human transgression. Gorres had commented that nature in this drawing appears apprehensive, "ihr ist, als ob der Unerforsch liche zum Zorne sich bewegen wolie" (12) [she, nature, senses that the inscrutable godhead is about to bestir itself to wrath]. Runge's decision to replace the lightning by passion flowers in the later version of Tag would seem to indicate that Christ's sacrifice and passion redeem humanity from the impious debasement manifest in the interior picture. (13)
A similar relationship between frame and interior appears in Abend. This drawing, like Morgen, portrays a transition, the process of descent as against ascent, when all nature begins to subside into oblivion in an ambivalent combination of composure and melancholy. The queen of night, the poppy, now rises, spreading her cloak of darkness embroidered with stars, while the lily of daylight slips below the horizon. It is, so Runge himself wrote, the spectacle of "Vernichtung der Existenz" [annihilation of existence] (HS 1: 82): the physical world is descending into annihilation but also into rest and into a loving recuperation in sleep and the infinite. Here too the frame panels both confirm the message of the interior picture and provide a reassuring commentary on it in transcendental terms. At the bottom the aloe plants and the accompanying bitter chalices express grief over obliteration, the children weep and mourn and hold the upturned torches of mortality, whilst the crucifixion is represented by the crown of thorns and the cherub heads nailed to the cross with the Christian inscription. Yet at the top Christ the lamb of god continues to radiate a redemptive force, which is deflected to earth by angels by means of upturned sunflowers. Above all, the crucifixion is of course a symbol not only of sorrow, but of hope. In the face of the daily descent into extinction shown in the inner picture the cross promises an earthly resurrection: the death of night will assuredly lead to the new creation of morning.
It is apparent then that the four drawings depict the eternal cycle of nature in a constant process of obliteration, regeneration, growth and decay. In 1806, when Runge was working to adapt them into a colored format, he wrote to a friend: "Mir rauscht das Jahr in seinen vier Abwechselungen: bluhend, erzeugend, gebarend und vernichtend, wie die Tageszeiten so bestandig durch den Sinn" [the year floods, like the times of day, constantly through my mind in its four variations: blossoming, conceiving, giving birth and annihilating] (HS 1: 66; Runge's own emphases). He perceives human life as part of this organic or vegetative cycle, from which human beings assert their autonomy only at the cost of their innocence in sinful alienation from nature. Nature and natural processes embody the divine. This is a view which Runge could have found expressed in Friedrich Schlegel's Gesprach uber die Poesie in the Athenaum, with which he had become acquainted at the time of its publication between 1798 and 1800. In this work Schlegel writes as follows:
Ja wir alle, die wir Menschen sind, haben immer und ewig keinen andern Gegenstand und keinen andern Stoff aller Tatigkeit und aller Freude, als das eine Gedicht der Gottheit, dessen Teil und Blute auch wir sind--die Erde. (Kritische Friedrich Schlegel-Ausgabe 2: 285, n. 10.) [Indeed all of us who are human beings have for always and ever no object for all activity and joy, no material for them, other than the one single poem of the godhead, of which we too are part and blossom--the earth.]
The terrestrial world as an expression of the deity, animated and imbued with spiritual energies: this too is the subject of Runge's drawings or rather of the internal pictures in them. The romantic nature philosophers had rejected an empiricist science in which natural phenomena were no more than dead matter to be analyzed, seeking instead to interpret nature as an infinity or chaos of wondrous living organisms, dynamic and mutating. It pulsated with divine forces or was even itself divine. In order to live in accordance with the divine plan, so Schlegel postulated in Lucinde in 1799, human beings had to emulate plants and live in a similarly organic and spontaneous fashion, growing and blooming without regard to the artificial conventions of rational society. In his Ideen, published at about the same time as Lucinde, Schlegel declared:
Schon ist was uns an die Natur erinnert, und also das Gefuhl der unendlichen Lebensfulle anregt. Die Natur ist organisch, und die hochste Schonheit daher ewig und immer vegetabilisch, und das gleiche gilt auch von der Moral und der Liebe. (Kritische Friedrich Schlegel-Ausgabe 2: 264) [Beauty is that which reminds us of nature and thus stimulates the sense of infinite abundance of life. Nature is organic, and the highest beauty is thus ever and always vegetable, and the same holds true for morality and love.]
Such views clearly relativize orthodox Christian conceptions of a transcendent deity, and it was only logical that in the Rede uber die Mythologie Schlegel had repeatedly advocated the study of Spinoza as the best model in the construction of the new mythology. These ideas reached Runge not only through the writings of Schlegel, whom he was to meet in Dresden in 1801, that is immediately before starting work on the four Zeiten drawings, but through the guru of German nature philosophy, Henrik Steffens, whom he also met in 1801, just after Steffens had published his Beitrage zur inneren Naturgeschichte der Erde [Contributions to the Inner Natural History of the Earth], and with whom he later corresponded. In Dresden too Runge attended lectures by another nature philosopher, Gotthilf Heinrich Schubert, whilst through Steffens he became acquainted with the work of Schelling.
In order to explain the development of Runge's thought and art it is necessary at this point to take account of his career before the genesis of the four Zeiten. In 1797 and 1798, whilst still employed in his brother's merchant business in Hamburg, he had encountered the writings of Tieck and the Schlegel circle. He had been particularly impressed by Tieck's Franz Sternbalds Wanderungen and the concept of landscape painting it contained. In this novel he could read the following passage, in which a venerable old hermit artist explains the significance of nature for the painter:
So hat sich der grossmachtige Schopfer heimlich-und kindlicherweise durch seine Natur unsern schwachen Sinnen offenbart, er ist es nicht selbst, der zu uns spricht, weil wir dermalen zu schwach sind, ihn zu verstehen; abet er winkt uns zu sich, und in jedem Moose, in jeglichem Gestein ist eine geheime Ziffer verborgen, die sich nie hinschreiben, nie vollig erraten lasst, die wir aber bestandig wahrzunehmen glauben. (14) [Thus the almighty creator has revealed himself to our feeble senses in a secret and childlike fashion through nature, it is not he himself who speaks to us, since at present we are too weak to understand him; but he waves us to him, and in every sort of moss, in every kind of stone a secret cypher is concealed, which can never be written down, never entirely decoded, but which we constantly suppose we perceive]
Here Runge encountered the recurrent romantic notion of nature and art as hieroglyphs or codes for intimating the divine, which would otherwise remain inaccessible, a notion also central to the Herzensergiessungen eines kunstliebenden Klosterbruders, another text Runge had read by 1803 at the latest. (15)
Doubtless such ideas encouraged the pious Protestant Runge finally to take up the artistic career to which he had always aspired. In 1799 he enrolled in the Copenhagen Academy of Art, transferring to the Dresden Academy in 1801. Yet in both institutions he was disillusioned by the pedantic neo-classicism of contemporary artistic practice. This disenchantment was compounded in early 1802 when he learned that his entry for the annual competition organized by the "Weimarer Kunstfreunde," that is the circle around Goethe, had been unfavorably received. He had submitted a pen and ink drawing on the prescribed subject, a scene from Homer. Goethe's patronizing advice to Runge, published in the Jena Allgemeine Literatur-Zeitung, culminates in the following admonition: "Wit raten dem Verfasser ein ernstes Studium des Altertums und der Natur, im Sinne der Alten" (16) [we recommend that the entrant undertake a serious study of antiquity and of nature, on the lines of the ancients]. Runge's first reaction, in an angry letter to his brother in February of 1802, was to reject all neoclassical art:
wir sind keine Griechen mehr, konnen das Ganze schon nicht mehr so fuhlen, wenn wir ihre vollendeten Kunstwerke sehen, viel weniger selbst solche hervorbringen, und warum uns bemuhen, etwas mittelmassiges zu liefern? (HS 1: 6) [we are no longer Greeks, we can no longer sense the whole thing when we see their perfected works of art, much less produce such works ourselves, so why bother to come up with something mediocre?]
Then he went on in this crucial letter to turn his back on history painting altogether and to declare his belief in landscape as the genre appropriate to his own generation, more specifically landscape painting with allegorical or mystical content:
[...] es hat noch keinen Landschafter gegeben, der eigentliche Bedeutung in seinen Landschaften hatte, der Allegorien und deudiche schone Gedanken in eine Landschaft gebracht hatte. Wer sieht nicht Geister auf den Wolken beym Untergang der Sonne? [...] Entsteht nicht ein Kunstwerk nur in dem Moment, wann ich deutlich einen Zusammenhang mit dem Universum vernehme? (HS 1: 6) [there has not yet been a landscape painter who has had real meaning in his landscapes, who has introduced allegories and clear beautiful thoughts into his landscapes. Who does not see spirits on the clouds at sunset? (...) Does not a work of art arise only in that moment when I clearly perceive a connection with the universe?]
The path to the Zeiten drawings was now open. Runge's belated period of training at traditional art academies had left him only with the visual vocabulary of neo-classicism, which was reinforced by his attraction to the line drawings of the English artist John Flaxman with their classical themes and austere draughtmanship. On the other hand his literary contacts had furnished him with ample modern and specifically romantic content. At the end of 1801 he had met Tieck in person, the author in the meantime of Der Runenberg, a story profoundly influenced by the nature philosophy of Steffens. In Runge's letters to his brother in November 1802 and to Tieck in December 1802, in part containing verbatim repetitions, he set out his new theory of landscape painting, in which he pleads that landscape be anthropomorphically invested with human sensations. It would be the task of future landscape painters to ensure "dass die Menschen in allen Blumen und Gewachsen, und in allen Naturerscheinungen, sich und ihre Eigenschaften und Landschaften sahen" [that mankind sees in all flowers and plants, and in all natural phenomena, themselves and their traits and their countryside] (HS 1: 24). To recognize such emotional or spiritual energies is to discover the vestiges of paradise, god or humankind in its original innocence. Tieck had introduced Runge to the works of Jakob Bohme and those of Novalis, in which Bohme's influence is also apparent. For Bohme nature is "die Handschrift Gottes" [the handwriting of god]. From Bohme's nature mysticism Runge took the notion of dawn, Aurora, as a recreation and the symbol of the lily as the embodiment of purity and regeneration; in fact the title of Bohme's most celebrated work, Morgenrote im Aufgang (1612) might equally well be applied to Runge's Morgen. In Bohme's work he could read of the "ewig Gebaren und Verzehren, darinnen die Offenbarung des Ungrundes steht" (17) [constant process of life born and life consumed by which the foundation of all things reveals itself]. Here too he found parallels with the concept of daily regeneration in the work of Herder, to which he had been introduced in school in Pomerania by his teacher Gotthard Ludwig Kosegarten. In the Alteste Urkunde des Menschengeschlechts of 1774, in a section significantly entitled "Unterricht unter der Morgenrote" [Tuition at Dawn], Herder had written:
Die uralteste herrlichste Offenbarung Gottes erscheint dir jeden Morgen als Tatsache, grosses Werk Gottes in der Natur [...] Siehest du jene stille Glorie! jene sanfte Augenwimper der Morgenrote, wie sie jeden Augenblick weiter hinaufschimmert, jeden Augenblick die Wolken um sich her anders wandelt--welche Farben! welch lachender Glanz [...] sanftes Angesicht der Gottheitt! Offenbarung, Erscheinung! (18) [The most ancient and most magnificent revelation of God appears to you every morning as a fact, the great work of god in nature (...) Do you see that silent glory! that gentle eyelash of sunrise shimmering further upwards every moment, transforming the clouds around it every moment--what colors! what jovial radiance (...) gentle countenance of the godhead! Revelation, manifestation!]
The revelation of the divine in an act of creation is thus, as in Runge's Tag, a daily event. By the end of 1802 Runge was producing the first drafts of the Zeiten drawings.
Herder's notion of god revealed in nature points to a problematical aspect of Runge's drawings and indirectly back to Eichendorff. If it is supposed in pantheistic fashion that natural phenomena are endowed with divine energies and rotate autonomously in a cycle of growth, decay, death and regeneration, as Runge deduced from the nature philosophers of his acquaintance, sought to portray in his drawings and himself asserted, what role is there for a transcendent god? So far the border panels of the Zeiten have been interpreted here as complementary to the main pictures, showing divine security enclosing the natural cycle. Yet it would be equally possible to see them as being at variance with the internal pictures, suggesting transcendent events which have no relevance to the natural processes in the temporal world that can and do proceed in an "ewigen Cirkelschlag" [constant cycle] of their own. There is a contradiction between the immanent divinity of the interior scenes and the transcendent Christian god of the frames. The glorification of biological and botanical processes for their own sake makes the transcendent god redundant, literally marginalized into the panels of Runge's compositions and indicated only by the most conventional of iconography. The author of the catalogue raisonne of Runge's works, Jorg Traeger, points out that Runge's mythical children, the representatives of the human soul, do not find their salvation in an afterlife, but in perpetual reconstitution of the terrestrial world, in the constantly repeated morning, although he concedes that Runge "mag in der Aufhebung christlicher Eschatologie in der Biologie des Alls keinen Widerspruch gesehen haben" (19) [may not have seen a contradiction in the suspension of Christian eschatology in the biology of the universe]. The devout Runge does indeed seem to have been unaware of these profane implications in his work, but for Eichendorff they may well have been one of the principal lessons which he drew from his study of the Zeiten or from Gorres's interpretation of them.
At a point of crisis in Eichendorff's Das Marmorbild the hero Florio prays "Herr Gott, lass mich nicht verlorengehen in der Welt" [lord God, do not let me go astray in the world] (Werke 2: 556, n. 9). By "the world" he means the physical and aesthetic attractions of nature, and particularly the profusion of glorious plants contained in the gardens of Frau Venus, the heathen goddess. He pleads to be spared the sin of entrapment in a purely diesseitig [immanent] paradise without reference to a personal, transcendent god. Eichendorff the poet was drawn to the aesthetic blandishments of nature, imbued for him too with all manner of divine significance. Eichendorff the catholic sensed the spiritual dangers of this seduction, symbolized in his work by sirens and pagan queens. Nature was the repository of divine truth, as in the poem "Abschied," but also the site of potential sin in the form of pantheistic nature worship without recognition of the divine provenance of earthly splendor. This ambiguity is a feature of the programmatic poem "Frische Fahrt," where amoral abandonment to the lure of the metaphorical river which beckons in springtime is counterbalanced by fear of the "magisch wild" [magically savage] self-loss, the emotional and spiritual "Wirren" [confusion] which such immersion in the purely terrestrial may entail. It is precisely this tension between nature veneration and consciousness of the attendant risk of godlessness that gives an edge of ambiguity and self-doubt to much of Eichendorff's work.
Runge, then, stands at a pivotal and mediating point in the development of German romanticism, and in particular in the complicated history of its return to religion. In the Zeiten he gives visual expression to the nature mythology which Friedrich Schlegel, Novalis and other early romantics had tried to create, regardless of the classicist style in which he worked. With the late romantics on the other hand he shares an interest in folk art and in the Marchen and the intense patriotism of the period of French occupation. Through his many literary connections--the Schlegels, Tieck, Steffens, Brentano, Arnim, Schelling, Gorres--he helped with his Zeiten drawings to transmit early romantic nature philosophy to the late romantics. In so doing he incorporated, whilst barely suspecting it himself, those potentially irreligious elements which the early romantics had failed to recognize. Yet unlike his contemporaries the Nazarene painters, who in their own way were also intensely influenced by romantic writers, Runge retained his traditional religious convictions and did not seek to convert Christianity into a predominantly aesthetic experience: "Die Religion ist nicht die Kunst," he wrote in 1802, "die Religion ist die hochste Gabe Gottes, sie kann nur von der Kunst herrlicher und verstandlicher ausgesprochen werden" [religion is not art, religion is the highest gift of god, it can only be expressed more gloriously and more intelligibly by art] (HS 2: 148). Unconsciously, however, the Zeiten in their assimilation of contemporary nature philosophy reflect the latent ambiguity of the romantic religious revival.
This essay is a revised and expanded version of a lecture given at the Institute of Germanic Studies, University of London in 1999. All English translations from German works quoted are my own.
(1.) Letter from Runge to his brother Daniel of 23 March 1803. Philipp Otto Runge, Hinterlassene Schriften, ed. Johann Daniel Runge [1840/41], facsimile edition (Gottingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1965) 1: 36. This edition will subsequently be cited within the text in the form HS 1 and 2.
(2.) Letter to his brother Daniel 0f 22 February 1803 (HS 2: 200).
(3.) See Stephan Waetzoldt, "Philipp Otto Runges Vier Zeiten und ihre Konstruktionszeichnungen," Anzeiger des Germanischen Nationalmuseums (1954-59): 234-47.
(4.) Brentano, Werke, Vol. 1, ed. Wolfgang Fruhwald, Bernhard Gajek and Friedhelm Kemp (Munich: Hanser, 1968) 619.
(5.) See Elisabeth Stopp, "Brentano's 'O Stern und Blume': its Poetic and Emblematic Context," Modern Language Review 67 (1972): 96-117. Stopp analyzes the affinities between Runge's Nacht and Brentano's illustration at some length. The correspondence between Runge and Brentano has been published in a modern edition by Konrad Feilchenfldt: Clemens Brentano-Philipp Otto Runge, Briefiwechsel (Frankfurt: Insel,1974). See also Wilhelm Schellberg, "Clemens Brentano und Philipp Otto Runge," Literatunvissenschaftliches Jahrbuch der Gorregesellschaft 8 (1936): 166-215.
(6.) Euphorion 9 (1902): 663.
(7.) Novalis, Schriften, Vol. 1: Das dichterische Werk, ed. Paul Kluckhohn and Richard Samuel (Stuttgart: Kohlhammer, 1960) 300. See Curt Grutzmacher, Novalis und Philipp Otto Runge (Munich: Eidos,1964).
(8.) Joseph von Eichendorff, Werke, Vol. 2, Romane und Erzahlungen, ed. Jost Perfahl (Munich: Winkler, 1970) 538, 541 and 554.
(9.) The same symbol occurs in Das Marmorbild. The pale figure of death appears with a torch: "Und manchmal da drehet / Die Fackel er um" [And then sometimes he turns / The torch upside down] (Eichendorff ,Werke, Vol. 2, as in 532, n. 8).
(10.) Kritische Friedrich Schlegel-Ausgabe, Vol. 2: Charakteristiken und Kritiken I (1796-1800), ed. Hans Eichner (Munich-Paderborn-Vienna: Schoningh, 1967) 312. Georg Syamken ("Indische Motive in Runges Morgen," Jahrbuch der Hamburger Kunstsammlungen 22 : 127-36) has shown that Runge's Hamburg connections and background must have acquainted him with facets of Indian art and myth that have also found their way into the Zeiten.
(11.) In his predilection for giant vegetation Runge seems to have been influenced by the classical garden pictures of Carl Wilhelm Kolbe (1759-1835). See Anthony Griffiths and Frances Carey, German Printmaking in the Age of Goethe (London: British Museum P, 1994) 112-22. The resemblances between Runge's Tag and Kolbe's Auch ich war in Arkadien (1801) are particularly striking. Runge had been an admirer of Kolbe's work since 1797 at the latest.
(12.) Gorres, Ausgewahlte Werke, ed. Wolfgang Fruhwald (Freiburg i. Br.: Herder, 1978) Vol. 1: 213.
(13.) For more detailed interpretation of Tag see my article "'Unselige Geschaftigkeit.' Zu einem romantischen Thema bei Friedrich Schlegel, Novalis und Philipp Otto Runge," Zeitschrift fur deutsche Philologie 107 (1988) (Sonderheft Studien zur deutschen Literatur von der Romantik bis Heine): 2-15.
(14.) Tieck, Franz Sternbalds Wandengen, "Studienausgabe," ed. Alfred Anger (Stuttgart: Reclaim, 1966) 252.
(15.) Letter of October 1803: see Note 6. See Hildegard Nabbe, "Die geheime Schrift der Natur: Ludwig Tiecks und Philipp Otto Runges Auffassung der Hieroglyphe," Seminar 25 1989): 12-36 and Oskar Walzel, "Die Sprache der Kunst," Jahrbuch der Goethe-Gesellschaft 1 (1914): 3-62.
(16.) Philipp Otto Runges Briefwechsel mit Goethe, ed. Hellmuth Freiherr von Maltzahn (Schriften der Goethe-Gesellschaft 51) (Weimar: Goethe-Gesellschaft, 1940) 26.
(17.) Jacob Bohme, Samtliche Schriften. Faksimile-Neudruck der Ausgabe von 1730 in elf Banden, ed. Will-Erich Peuckert (Stuttgart: Frommann, 1955-61) Vol. 7: 24. On the influence of Bohme on Tieck and though hint on Runge, see Edwin Luer, Aurum und Aurora. Ludwig Tiecks "Runenberg" und Jakob Bohme (Heidelberg: Winter, 1997)
(18.) Johann Gottfried Herder, Werke in zehn Banden, Volume 5, Schriften zum alten Testament, ed. Rudolf Smend (Frankfurt am Main: Deutscher Klassiker Verlag, 1993) 239 241.
(19.) Jorg Traeger, Philipp Otto Runge. Monographie und kritischer Katalog (Munich: Prestel, 1975) 52.
RICHARD LITTLEJOHNS is Professor of Modern Languages and Director of Studies in German at the University of Leicester, UK. He co-edited the critical edition of the works and letters of Wilhelm Heinrich Wackenroder (1991) and published a volume of essays on Wackenroder. He has also published articles on Goethe, Schiller, Johann Karl Wezel, Friedrich Schlegel, Novalis, Tieck, Gorres, Eichendorff, and Remarque. He is currently working on the relationship between biography and fiction, especially in relation to Wolfgang Hildesheimer and Andrew Motion. The present article represents a preliminary study for a monograph on Phillip Otto Runge.
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|Publication:||Studies in Romanticism|
|Article Type:||Critical Essay|
|Date:||Mar 22, 2003|
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