(b Frankfurt am Main, Aug 28, 1749; d Weimar, March 22, 1832).
German writer, statesman, scientist, historian and theorist. By virtue of his prodigious literary output, his writings on art (notably in collaboration with Friedrich Schiller), his patronage as chief minister of Weimar, the extraordinary variety of his interests, and his sheer longevity, he had a profound influence on European culture.
Goethe began writing in the late 1760s, when the Romantic reaction against Neo-classicism had already started. The Rococo view of the Classical heritage, which stressed the formal elegance and rationality of the Greeks, was being dismantled by such writers as Johann Gottfried Herder, Johann Joachim Winckelmann and Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, all of whom influenced Goethe. Herder’s study of folk art, Homer and the Bible concurred with Goethe’s celebration of Shakespeare—in Rede zum Shäkespears Tag (1771)—and of Gothic art—in Von deutscher Baukunst (1772)—in acknowledging the role of passion and daemonic energy in art. These elements, it was claimed, were also present in Classical art; this contrasted with the Neo-classical emphasis on its rationality. This period of Goethe’s life produced such characteristically Romantic poems as ...