Contributor: Alexander Knopf
Location: Freies Deutsches Hochstift / Frankfurter Goethe-Museum, Frankfurt/Main, Germany
Description: In October 1809, Bettine Brentano sent a long letter to Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. With this letter, a remarkable etching was enclosed. The work, fashioned by Ludwig Emil Grimm (1790-1863), depicted Bettine herself, sitting on a chair with a voluminous book. A closer look reveals the title on the spine. It is Achim von Arnim’s Wintergarten, a collection of short stories published in 1809. Yet Bettine does not hold the book like a reader. With the folded hands pressing the book against her bosom, she seems to rock it like her own child. The whole composition is meant to display a link between the book or, respectively, its author and Bettine’s heart. In 1811, Bettine would become von Arnim’s wife. The portrait, however, was first sent to Goethe. The feelings suggested by the picture were not exactly the feelings that Bettine was harbouring in her chest.
Continue reading “Portrait of Bettine Brentano with Achim von Arnim’s “Wintergarten””
Contributor: Martin Fog Arndal
Location: National Portrait Gallery, London
Description: In 1797, renowned philosopher and author, Mary Wollstonecraft sat for her last portrait made by John Opie, portrait painter to the royal family as well as a number of other influential Britons. Of the different portraits Wollstonecraft would sit for, this one stands out due to its serene expression. Compared to Opie’s first portrait of her in 1790-1, in which Wollstonecraft is holding an open book in her hands, gazing straight into the eyes of the beholder, the latter portrait is radically different. Holding no objects, only bearing the colors of black and white, she lights up against a dark background, gazing to her right. In front of Opie sits not only the feminist depicted in 1790-1, but a mother of one, and pregnant once again. However, the vividness of her eyes, the relaxed shoulders, and the relaxed composition defy the emotional turmoil that had defined the years before her untimely death. Eleven days after giving birth, later that same year Opie depicted her for the last time, Wollstonecraft would pass away.
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Contributor: Emese Asztalos
Description: Sándor Petőfi (1823–1849) was not just a poet, but also a cultural hero and icon in Hungary. In his lifetime he was already what we might spell with symbolic capital letters: The Romantic Poet. His name could be transformed into a term, as in the case of Byron or Liszt. Of course this “Petőfism” is not so extensive as Byronism or Lisztomania, but still, the main features and attributes of his character could be also be abstracted to many of the same symbolic Romantic meanings, for instance freedom, youth or independence.
This portrait of Petőfi was painted by Miklós Barabás, who was the main protagonist of nineteenth-century Hungarian Art. All the most important figures of the nineteenth century were portrayed by him, so Petőfi’s popularity is underscored by the fact that the lead portraitist depicted him in 1846. As an engraving, it was published first on the cover of Petőfi’s Selected Poems in 1846, which immediately conveys several metaphorical messages. With its opening or initiating function, the picture reinforces the poet’s intention: his aim was to be considered as the embodiment of poetry itself. In his lifetime, and particularly after his death, this image became the most well-known portrayal of Petőfi, and was reproduced extensively. It gives a characteristic glimpse of the method of the construction of Petőfi’s Romantic authorship through symbolic portraits from the nineteenth century.
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Contributor: Stephen Bending
Description: As a souvenir, this small square of garden netting signals the peculiarly domestic nature of William Cowper (1731-1800) as a poet. Made by Cowper and his household, the tied strands of thread seem trivial perhaps—a quirky, amusingly antiquarian delight. But that triviality is also an announcement of authenticity. In it we are given a little piece of Cowper—the net is not simply an object, but an act, a winter evening’s task, part of the fabric of Cowper’s life. The net is ephemeral (but it has lasted), domestic (but it is treasured), it is the product of careful labour, and in its small way it recognises Cowper’s garden—or any garden—as a place of tenuous and temporary delight.
Samuel Johnson’s pleasing definition of a network as ‘the intersection of interstices’ offers us an insight into the peculiar nature of nets – at once the twine and the holes between the twine, where each is as important as the other but where the net is neither one nor the other. Nets, that is, are nothing if not liminal, and they help us to understand both Cowper’s retirement and his fascination with the world from which he retired, both his sense of being a part of nature and his recognition that—like all men—he was separated from it.
Continue reading “William Cowper’s garden netting: weaving nets for bird-alluring fruit”