Entête de page

Goethe in Strasbourg 1770-1771, the awakening of a genius

The exhibition is being held by the Prints and Drawings Room, in partnership with the Strasbourg National and University Library, to mark the 250th anniversary of Johann Wolfgang Goethe's arrival in Strasbourg. It stresses the importance of Goethe's stay in Strasbourg and the opportunity it gave him to discover the cosmopolitan culture of a city at the crossroads between France and Germany.


The young Johann Wolfgang Goethe, at the time only 21 years old, stayed in Strasbourg from April 1770 to August 1771. His father wanted him not only to complete his law studies there, but also to learn French and gain knowledge of French culture and lifestyles. It was also an opportunity for the young intellectual to build his character and artistic tastes. The exhibition draws on his writings and the traces of his stay found in Strasbourg.


Although it had been French for almost a century, Strasbourg was still beset by conflicting cultural identities. This could be seen for example in the considerable changes in the city's architectural setting undergone in the preceding period, including construction of the "Aubette" and the Bishop's Palace, now the Palais Rohan. At the same time, the city had maintained its rich Germanic tradition, noticeable in such non-religious establishments as craft guilds. In addition, the city's reputation owed much to its rich arts and crafts tradition, with goldsmith and pottery workshops that were admired throughout Europe. Strasbourg was now in the process of reconciling the two cultures and asserting its fundamentally European character.


Stimulated by his exchanges with intellectuals in Strasbourg, in particular Johann Gottfried Herder, Goethe became absorbed in subjects such as the theory of colours, folk tales and popular traditions, at the same time acquiring a sense of his vocation as a writer. It was his discovery of the cathedral that led him to write the essay entitled Von deutscher Baukunst (On German Architecture).


The exhibition brings together some 120 works from the Museums of Strasbourg, as well as public and private collections, and gives us new insight into this little-known period in the great writer's life. Organised in partnership with the BNU (National and University Library), it reveals an exceptional collection of 2,250 works, including a hundred dating back to the 18th century. Autograph manuscripts and correspondence provide examples of the young Goethe's writings at this time.


Exhibition curators: Florian Siffer, in charge of the Prints and Drawings Room, Aude Therstappen, curator in charge of the Germanic and Scandinavian collections of the Bibliothèque nationale et universitaire de Strasbourg


In partnership with the German Presidency of the Committee of Ministers – Council of Europe ( November 2020 – May 2021)