Art, Getty Research Institute, Prints and Drawings

Philipp Otto Runge’s “Times of Day,” A Monument of German Romantic Art

Morning from the Times of Day suite / Philipp Otto Runge

Morning from Times of Day, 1805, Philipp Otto Runge. Printmaker: J.G. Seyfert. Etching and Engraving. The Getty Research Institute, 2013.PR.35**

Philipp Otto Runge (1777–1810) is not a household name in the U.S., and his suite of four prints commonly known as the Times of Day are rarely seen here. We are fortunate to have recently acquired one of the extremely rare surviving sets of the first edition in a fantastic state of preservation. (Learn more about the acquisition and see all four prints here.)

Along with Caspar David Friedrich (1774–1840), Runge was a leading painter and theorist of the German Romantic movement. We now think of him as having rejected the tradition of academic painting in favor of highly personal art form that symbolizes the essential harmony of nature, humanity, and the divine. This in a way is true, but it’s equally valid to say that he relied, in part, on classical imagery to express the radical notions he absorbed from the likes of Baroque mystics who interpreted the world as metaphors and symbols. If this sounds complicated, it is. Runge’s creations, like other great masterpieces, are the subject of debate and open to interpretation. And while it’s hard work to interpret the exact meaning of the images, it’s easy to be seduced by their beauty and elegance. The Times of DayMorning, Evening, Day, and Night—is a monument of German Romanticism and a milestone in the history of Western art.

Evening from the Times of Day suite / Philipp Otto Runge

Evening from Times of Day, 1805, Philipp Otto Runge. Printmaker: J.G. Seyfert. The Getty Research Institute, 2013.PR.35**

From 1802 until his untimely death at the age of 33 in 1810, Runge worked obsessively on these images, carefully articulating every aspect of their compositions. Early in the planning stages, he made four large outline drawings in preparation for the printed images. The first, small edition of the engravings was published in 1805 and captures the delicacy of Runge’s carefully constructed preparatory drawings.  Runge’s original motivation to have his designs engraved was not commercial, as may have been the case when the second, altered edition was published in 1807. In fact, he shared the first edition with artists and writers in order to circulate his new ideas and to announce plans to create a large painting cycle based upon the designs. The painted cycle was never completed, which means that the prints provide a rare opportunity to glimpse Runge’s brilliance.

Admirers of these images are in good company, because their delicate purity was praised by none other than the towering figure of 18th-century German literature, culture, and science, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. He displayed a set of the Times of Day in his music room, where he apparently exclaimed to a visitor, “it’s enough to drive you crazy, beautiful, and mad at the same time!”

The idea behind the “mad” iconography of Times of Day is the coming and departing of light, which points to the cycles of life from conception to death. Runge summarized his images with the following statements (in his original German, followed by English translation):

Der Morgen ist die grenzenlose Erleuchtung des Universums.
Der Tag ist die grenzenlose Gestaltung der Kreatur, die das Universum erfüllt.
Der Abend ist die grenzenlose Vernichtung der Existenz in den Ursprung des Universums.
Die Nacht ist die grenzenlose Tiefe der Erkenntniß von der unvertilgten Existenz in Gott

Morning is the boundless illumination of the universe.
Day is the boundless formation of the creature that fills the universe.
Evening is the boundless annihilation of existence into the origin of the universe.
Night is the boundless depth of the realization of the unobliterated existence in God.

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      All Hail Tiberius, Least Media-Savvy of the Roman Emperors

      Tiberius was proclaimed Roman emperor on September 17 in AD 14, exactly 2,000 years ago.

      He was also a bit idiosyncratic. “He was the least media-savvy emperor you could imagine,” says curator David Saunders, who has been in charge of this bronze portrait of Tiberius which leaves us on September 22. He point to this description found in the writings of Cassius Dio:

      Tiberius was a patrician of good education, but he had a most peculiar nature. He never let what he desired appear in his conversation, and what he said he wanted he usually did not desire at all. On the contrary, his words indicated the exact opposite of his real purpose; he denied all interest in what he longed for, and urged the claims of what he hated. He would exhibit anger over matters that were far from arousing his wrath, and make a show of affability where he was most vexed…In short, he thought it bad policy for the sovereign to reveal his thoughts; this was often the cause, he said, of great failures, whereas by the opposite course, far more and greater successes were attained.

      Moreover, David tells us, “Tiberius’s accession itself was a farrago: Tiberius sort-of feigning reluctance, the Senate bullying him, he being all, ‘Well, if-I-have-to,’ and in the end—according to Suetonius—saying he’ll do it as long as he can retire.”

      Suetonius is full of great, albeit spurious, anecdotes about poor old Tiberius, David reports. “When someone addressed him as ‘My Lord,’ it is said, Tiberius gave warning that no such insult should ever again be thrown at him.”

      Happy accession, My Lord!

      Portrait Head of Tiberius (“The Lansdowne Tiberius”), early 1st century A.D., Roman. The J. Paul Getty Museum

      Statue of Tiberius (detail), Roman, A.D. 37, Soprintendenza Speciale per i Beni Archeologici di Napoli e Pompei – Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli, Laboratorio di Conservazione e Restauro. Currently on view at the Getty Villa following conservation and study.

      09/17/14

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