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Classical Weimar

Duchess Anna Amalia’s Dower House

The city of Weimar is noted for its cultural heritage, specifically because Johann Wolfgang von Goethe & Friedrich Schiller once lived there. When the Duke of Saxe-Weimar & Saxe-Eisenach died at the age of twenty in 1758, his 18-year-old widow, Duchess Anna Amalia, became the regent for her son Carl August. In 1772, she contracted the poet Christoph Martin Wieland to tutor her two sons, and subsequently Weimar gradually became an attractive place for the intellectual elite of the time: after Carl August succeeded to the duchy in 1775, he hired Goethe as privy counsellor, and one year later he welcomed the philosopher Johann Gottfried Herder to town. Together with Schiller, who moved to Weimar in 1799, Goethe, Wieland & Herder were the leading authors of Weimar Classicism, one of Germany’s most exalted literary periods.

The Green Salon at the Dowager’s Palace
The Green Salon

Even though Anna Amalia was not involved in the appointment of Goethe, Herder & Schiller to Weimar, its late-18th-century cultural heyday can be attributed to her. After 1775 she devoted herself to her private interests and gathered a circle of artists, writers & scholars around her, with whom she regularly met. The baroque Dowager’s Palace, to which she invited them for social gatherings, is now a museum featuring her former parlours & staterooms. Its furniture & fittings are typical of upper-class mansions around 1800 and shed light on Anna Amalia’s wide-ranging interests. Numerous paintings & drawings depict members of her family and her many guests. Among the highlights of the palace are the furnishings of the Round Table Room, the ceiling mural in the Ballroom, and Anna Amalia’s almost entirely authentic parlour, the Green Salon.

Reader comments


Artistic movements come & go, and in most cases determining their time span is possible only by approximation. This is not the case with Weimar Classicism, which started when Goethe first set out for Italy and ended when Schiller died, and therefore lasted from 3 September 1786 at 3 a.m. until 9 May 1805 at 5¾ p.m.


If literary historians agree on anything, it is that Weimar Classicism as a distinct literary period ought not to exist. Not only is the membership of the putative period so small & so local, the major problem is that its characteristics are perfectly consistent with those of romanticism, a bona fide literary period that easily embraces Weimar Classicism.


Besides being recognized for running the duchy on behalf of her son, Anna Amalia is noted for her work as a composer. Probably her best-known work is Erwin & Elmire, an opera in two acts with a libretto by Goethe. On YouTube you can listen to a recording of the overture to get an impression of this opera.


Anna Amalia’s great merit is to have given the ducal book collection, founded as early as 1691, an existence independent of the court by assigning it its own building, which is known today as the Duchess Anna Amalia Library. After being moved to the new building in 1766, the collection was opened to all educated locals & foreigners and increasingly developed into the literary armoury from which Weimar writers drew for their work.


After Anna Amalia’s death in 1807, Goethe wrote the official obituary Zum feyerlichen Andenken der Durchlauchtigsten Fürstin und Frau Anna Amalia, a masterpiece that was read from all the pulpits of the duchy.

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