Bronze medal of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, by Johann Gottfried Schadow
Berlin / Weimar, Germany, AD 1816
Portrait of a scholar
Johann Goethe (1749-1832), the famous poet, novelist, playwright and philosopher, was extremely wide-ranging in his scholarly and literary pursuits. He had a large collection of drawings, ceramics, bronzes and medals, of ancient and Renaissance craftsmanship. Johann Gottfried Schadow (1764-1850), a neo-classical sculptor, was asked to make a portrait medal by Goethe's son on a visit to Weimar in 1816, where Goethe offered Schadow advice on a monument to Field Marshal von Blücher, a hero of the Battle of Waterloo (18 June 1815)
The medal is very large, with a portrait bust of the writer on one side and an image of Pegasus on the reverse. The size and design are inspired by Italian Renaissance medals, which were of particular interest to Goethe. Pegasus, surrounded by an inscription in Greek meaning 'Go on thou wing of Pegasus, dear to me', is used on a sixteenth-century medal of Pietro Bembo by an anonymous Paduan medallist, which is the direct model for this piece. Goethe and Schadow must have taken some pleasure from the work, as the sculptor later produced an uncommissioned marble portrait of the author (1822-23, Berlin Alte Nationalgalerie). For his 80th birthday celebrations in 1829, copies of the portrait side were given away to guests invited to the party. By showing him in the same way as a Renaissance figure, the medal encapsulates Goethe's taste for and sympathy with the art and literature of the period.
E. Gans, Goethes Italian medals (San Diego, California, Malter-Westerfield Publishing Company, 1969)
G. Förschner, Goethe in der Medaillenkunst (Historiches Museum, Frankfurt-am-Main, 1982)
N. Boyle, Goethe, the poet and the age:, vol. 1 (Oxford, 1991)