29 January 2013

Goethe's home in Weimar: 1782-1832

The Duke of Sachsen Weimar Eisenach was clearly besotted with the famous author, Johann Wolfgang Goethe (1749–1832). and invited him to move to Weimar and to lease rooms in the Duke’s lovely summer palace that was first built in 1709. By 1792, the entire house was presented to Goethe by his grateful patron. For the last 50 years of his life, Goethe was made a minister of state, ennobled, travelled back and forward to Italy, renovated the Weimar house beautifully and led a thoroughly enjoyable life.

The influence of Italy is still visible in Goethe’s House today. It has been a plain but refined two-storey building in cream. The attic floor and dormer windows, which rang the full length of the house, were in smart grey.

Although he could not necessarily buy original art works, Goethe happily bought copies of classical paintings and casts of classical sculptures. Visitors were immediately taken to see one room that had been dedicated to his collection of sculpture and another room that had been set aside for his paintings. A third room was specially decorated for large dinner parties and the main saloon was used as a music room.

Goethe’s House. He lived there from 1782-89 as a tenant and from 1792-1832 as the owner

The most important room in the entire house was Goethe’s study which was organised, quiet and little decorated. When the visitors had gone and the wife, children and staff were busy elsewhere, Goethe liked nothing more than to sit, think and read in peace. He wrote Faust in this very room.

I did not realise Goethe was the director of the court theatre in the 1790s. Perhaps that was why Jeremy Musson regarded the house in total as a theatrical experience, particularly the main staircase and the Bridge Room. Goethe wanted a spacious staircase with 3 passageways, niches for sculptures and the mounting of stucco friezes. This re-construction reflected Goethe’s ideology of classical art.

The Bridge Room bridged the courtyard and provided a central link between the north and south, using two passages on the upper floor. They also bridged the coach house and inner courtyard with the fountain. The back of the house might have been the working areas, but they overlooked attractive gardens.

Goethe’s House, classical layout of the rooms. Note the painted frieze

For a man of letters, Goethe was amazingly flexible in his projects; he was responsible for designing the park grounds along the River Ilm. He had a small villa, surrounded by green park grounds, which he kept as an informal summer residence. The building was restored recently and the garden today looks as it would have looked, when Goethe performed his botanical experiments. A man of many talents!

In 1832, Goethe died in Weimar and was appropriately buried in the Ducal Vault at Weimar's main cemetery. Only when Goethe’s grandson died (in 1885) did the family agree to give the house and collections to the state. Since being renovated in recent years, visitors have had access to 18 of the rooms which display Goethe’s own furniture and household goods, and objects from the Goethe’s collection of paintings, sculptures and decorative arts. The Goethe House and National Museum are open every day except Mon.

I visited Weimar (pop 65,000) specifically on a Bauhaus pilgrimage and had enough time to enjoy all the Goethe facilities in the city as well. Had I known beforehand, I'd have allowed much more time to see Bach’s house, the Duchess Anna Amalia library palace, Liszt House Museum, Lucas Cranach’s house and the Nietzsche Archive Museum.

Goethe's garden house


Jane and Lance Hattatt said...

Hello Hels:
This is exactly the kind of thing which we so enjoy and somewhere, as yet, unvisited but which this post prompts us to rectify in the not too distant future.

Hels said...

Jane and Lance

absolutely. I haven't been on my Bauhaus pilgrimage from Weimar to Berlin via Dessau for 10-12 years. Just name a time (alas it must be late June or all of July for me) and we'll meet up!

Andrew said...

The doorway in the first photo seems to have some Asian influence? The symmetry of the house is very nice to the eye.

Parnassus said...

Hello Hels, This is one house I would be very keen to visit. Not only is it a monument to a great genius, it is also attractive and interesting in its own right. Your description of Goethe's many talents calls to mind Thomas Jefferson.

This house is well represented in old photographs, indicating its powers as a shrine from an early day. Some photos show "Mendelssohn's piano" in the house--I wonder if that is still there?
--Road TO Parnassus

Hels said...


I wish some grateful patron would bequeath me a beautiful city home!

I am not sure who made the original architectural decisions since the summer palace had existed decades before Goethe was even born. But I am sure that Goethe made the decorative decisions, at least once he owned the place.

Hels said...


even in his own field (literature), Goethe was multi talented: poetry, drama, biography, science texts, novels, literary criticism etc. We moderns are fortunate if we can do ONE thing well.

Yet he stretched himself well beyond literature. Art, garden design, theatre management, politics, being a magazine editor etc etc. No wonder he didn't have time for a family until later in life.

Thanks for the tip re Mendelssohn's piano. I will chase it up.