Nestled in the heart of Weimar, opposite the Deutsches Nationaltheater and statue of Goethe and Schiller, is the Wittumspalais. From the outside, this erstwhile residence of Duchess Anna Amalia appears fairly inconspicuous. Yet, its walls once contained a hive of artistic and intellectual energy, accommodating some of the greatest writers, thinkers and artists of the eighteenth and early nineteenth century. These included Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, a close acquaintance of the duchess and regular attendee of her ‘Round Table’ gatherings. The room in which he would have sat survives to this day ―it really is a place in which you wish walls could talk. The palace is adorned with evidence of a highly creative and erudite former occupant, with a passion for Italy and the Ancient World which underpinned her dilettantism. This is, arguably, most apparent in the ‘Grüne Salon’, which, through its numerous paintings and decidedly neoclassical interior, exudes the duchess’s affinity for the country and its illustrious ancestry.
The ‘Malzimmer’ and ‘Musikzimmer’ display Anna Amalia’s artistry and musicality, the latter boasting a piano and harpsichord. It was also quite striking to learn that she composed some of her own music, too.
For a Briton, the ‘Musikzimmer’ has a particularly intriguing painting. It features Emma Hart ― the wife of the British Ambassador to the Kingdom of Naples, Sir William Hamilton ― with whom the duchess became acquainted during her travels to Italy.
Statue of Admiral Nelson Copyright Julian Mason (on Flickr)
Hart was later catapulted to fame (infamy?) as Lady Hamilton, the lover of one my greatest ever compatriots, Admiral Horatio Nelson, the naval hero who still oversees Trafalgar Square.
A splendid visit concluded in the ‘Festsaal’, where I was greeted by the busts of Rousseau and Voltaire. One wonders how Rousseau, who deemed civilization a corruption of Man’s childishly-innocent natural state, would have reacted to his “presence” in the abode of such a cultivated individual.
The Wittumspalais also symbolises the clear social stratification which would have prevailed during Goethe’s time in Weimar. It was fascinating to learn that, as well as being almost completely inaccessible to the Bürgertum, the palace once overlooked a boulevard which only the nobility were allowed to use.
I started to ponder how such might have influenced Goethe’s thoughts on social hierarchy, and the French Revolution which aimed to obliterate it. I also wondered what Goethe would have made of the many shops and eateries which now align the once genteel boulevard...
Alexander Mortimore is working on his PhD at Oxford University. His focus is on Edmund Burkes und Goethes reactions to the French Revolution. As a trainee he spends two months at the Klassik Stiftung (cf. the Research Library Internships and the partnership with the Oxford German Network.)