Johann Wolfgang Von Grrrr-Duh…..part 2

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Illuminated Manuscripts

Often religious in nature, the illuminated manuscripts were also historic records.  The majority of the manuscripts were created in the middle ages, and the artwork done in these manuscripts stand out as the best surviving paintings of the middle ages.  They are also the only surviving paintings for many periods of the medieval ages.  Until the 12trh century, most of the illuminated manuscripts were created in monasteries. Some monasteries had separate areas specifically for the painting and calligraphic work used for the manuscripts, called “scriptoriums”.  Monks were isolated from their cloister here, and could work in on the manuscripts without being distracted or interrupted by a fellow monk. Throughout the ages, entire Bibles, massive with the many pages and illustrations within, have been illuminated.  There is an illuminated Bible in Sweden so large it requires three librarians to lift it.  There have also been illuminated manuscripts from the Renaissance, which are rare since the invention of moveable type by Gutenberg brought the practice of illuminated manuscripts to an end. 


As they were religious in nature, many illuminated manuscripts depicted pictures of heaven and hell, of saints and other, mythical figures.  A major preoccupation of the Anglo-Saxon church was with the tortuous lives of evil men and sinners in the afterworld.  It was difficult for manuscriptists, especially monks; to paint their Bibles (and other religious works) depicting Hell while also remaining true to the fact that Hell is not seen as a place, but as a state of being.  As such, many manuscripts do contain depictions of Hell, making the experience of damnation now a painting, a metaphor, of that experience.  Medieval concern about Hell was also sparked by events in the world around the monks.   Some of the religious self –righteousness was ignited by the popularity of paganism.  Viking hordes brought with them into England their practice and belief in paganism, which was seen as punishment from God for the sinfulness of the people.


Of course, key to this sinfulness was Satan himself, who many considered not only God’s test of the faithfulness of his subjects as also the leader of the rebel angels in Hell.  He is believed to have worked thr9ough the serpent in the Garden of Eden to tempt Eve, which of course he succeeded at.  Less successfully, he was the tempter appointed by God to try to destroy Job’s faith. His temptations of Christ in the desert are excellent marks of his character.  In Literature, too, the lure of Satan’s temptations can be enough to corrupt and destroy.  Witness “Faust”  – the popular German story, retold in many ways –a successful scholar becomes tired of his life and makes a deal with the devil to have omniscience and worldly pleasure.  He turns away from the divine, and turns his focus to the things of the world.  The story was retold many times, particularly by Christopher Marlowe in the 16th century and two centuries later, by Johann Goethe.


 “Faust” was an intellectual sick of earthly meat and drink.  Mephistopheles (Satan) made a Goethe’s deal with me to take his soul in exchange for unimaginable glory and success at the apex of Faust’s happiness.  That moment almost comes but God’s angels intercede and take Faust to heaven.  Goethe worked on the play/poem over decades and it was published completely only after his death. The idea of ‘selling one’s soul to the devil” took on a very deep resonance, becoming a great myth which inspired books, (see Thomas Mann), music (i.e. Wagner, among others), theatre (i.e. Orson Welles, etc.).  Goethe’s influence in other spheres was enormous as well.  His great output of work is impressive, as well as their continued circulation and dissemination into the culture. His works also have the quality of standing alone, complete in and of themselves.

Johanne Wolfgang von Goethe

The fame accorded the book,”Werther”, brought interest to its author Goethe from the court of  Carl August, Duke of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach.  As might be expected, the Duke was only 18 at the time; Goethe’s works did have an effect on the younger generations.  While living in the Duke’s court, in 1776, Goethe began a relationship with another Charlotte, Charlotte von Stein, a somewhat older, married woman. The bond they had lasted for a decade, but Goethe suddenly decamped to Italy, ending things.  Goethe toured Italy for a couple years, writing about his experiences, in much the same way his father had.  Half of Goethe’s journey was recorded in his diaries, which later became his book, “Italian Journey”.  Many young Germans were inspired by Goethe’s book to travel there, too.  With echoes of the Sturm and Drang movement still ringing, Frederick Schiller offered friendship to Goethe.  Goethe accepted.  Goethe began to devote more and more of his energy to literature.  Goethe had a near fatal heart attack, and, upon recovery, fell in love with Ulrike von Levetzow whom he wanted to marry, but his mother refused to let him.  Goethe died in Weimar, Germany, in 1832.   Posthumously, the second half of Goethe’s Faust was published.  “Faust” would later be seen, Part I and Part II, as a monument of European Literature.


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