Poesia e destino
How Italy read Werther
An exhibition at the Museum Casa di Goethe
curated by Maria Gazzetti
From 24 May to 20 September 2019 Casa di Goethe - the only German museum abroad - presents "Poesia e destino. How Italy read Werther". The exhibition is dedicated to the Italian success story of Goethe's famous epistolary novel "The Sorrows of Young Werther" and coincides with "Goethe: Verwandlung der Welt (Transformation of the World)" (exhibit at Bundeskunsthalle Bonn in collaboration with Casa di Goethe, Klassik Stiftung Weimar, Goethehaus Frankfurt and Goethe-Museum Düsseldorf. Patronage: President of Germany Frank-Walter Steinmeier).
His unhappy love for Charlotte Buff inspired Goethe to create Werther, which he confidently put on paper in an infallible style in only four weeks. The book published in Leipzig in 1774 - manifesto of an entire generation - is an indescribable success that reaches far beyond borders. The contemporary youth starts to dress in the so-called Werther style, with a blue jacket and yellow waistcoat. With the little book in their pockets, many young people commit suicide. Imitation acts, as is the case today with the social phenomenon of constant "likes" and "shares" on social media.
This certainly was not Goethe's intention. With the Wertherian realization of a deceptive and finite existence, Goethe actually wanted to communicate to his readers that life can be redeemed through art. Goethe sacrificed Werther and thus became the poet he was. To this day, this masterly early work touches young readers in particular.
Already during his journey to Italy (1786-1788), the poet was confronted with the great success of his novel. On February 1, 1788, he wrote in Via del Corso 18, where today the Casa di Goethe is located: "Here they sect me with the translations of my Werther and show them to me and ask which one is the best, and if everything is true! This is now a disaster that would haunt me all the way to India."
In the show curated by museum director Maria Gazzetti, editions and illustrations from German libraries and museums tell the story of the edition of the famous epistolary novel. Cult objects such as a "Lotte und Werther" porcelain cup from 1775 from the Goethehaus in Frankfurt also shed light on the bestseller status of the work. Also on display are the most important editions from the extensive Goethe Special Library of Casa di Goethe, including the rare German first edition from 1774.
At the center, however, are the first Italian Werther translations, such as the 1782 version printed in Poschiavo.
The exhibition includes the well-known watercolour "Goethe at the Gulf of Naples" by J. H. W. Tischbein (on loan from the Museo San Martino, Naples), which shows the poet in his Werther costume, as well as other works and illustrations by Italian artists.
Two influential Italian poets have played an important role in the Italian reception of Werther: Ugo Foscolo and Giacomo Leopardi. A highlight of the exhibition is the original Werther copy translated by Michiel Salom from Leopardi's personal library in Recanati.
The Last Letters of Jacopo Ortis by Ugo Foscolo refer evidently to Werther. In 1802 Foscolo wrote to Goethe and introduced himself as a young writer who sends his "first volume" to the poet. The letter was made available for the Roman exhibition by "Goethe- und Schiller-Archiv" in Weimar. It is another highlight and one of the most important historical documents presented.
Goethe's Werther has always been a source of inspiration for the Italian literary world - from Monti to Guido Gozzano, from Giovanni Giudici to the editions edited by Paola Capriolo and Aldo Busi.
The last part of the exhibition is devoted to contemporary confrontations with Werther. Some examples of Italian editions from the 20th century will be shown. The exhibition concludes with photographic works by Maria Di Stefano. For two years the young artist, inspired by the "modern spirit of the work", has been working on a "Werther homage" in the form of portraits of contemporaries. One of the photographs was selected for the invitation card and exhibition brochure. Furthermore, the Italian artist Luigi Ontani has created a ceramic book object specifically for the Roman exhibition, dedicated to one of Werther´s first Italian editions.
An audio station enables the rediscovery or discovery of this epoch-making work of world literature. The well-known Italian actor Neri Marcorè has read several passages exclusively for the Casa di Goethe.
In front of a "Werther background", visitors can take souvenir photos of their visit to the museum at the "Selfie Point".