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The Mond Bequest at King's College London: A Celebration

Weimar Classicism

Goethe watercolourGoethe watercolourIn Italy Goethe aimed to rediscover himself as a writer and to become an artist, through formal training in Rome, Europe's 'school of art'.

If he failed (again) as an artist, Italy succeeded in giving him a new sense of himself as a writer. After Italy Goethe's writing eschews the emotionalism of Werther and gains a new luminosity and objectivity.

Schiller's evolution as a writer was following a similar path to Goethe's. He had begun as a writer of wild, violent, emotion-driven plays, but in the late 1780s he turned to a more classical style.

In 1794 the two poets became friends and allies in a project to establish new standards for literature and the arts in Germany.

Schiller enjoyed a remarkable burst of creativity during this period, writing his plays Wallenstein (1799), Mary Stuart (1800), The Maid of Orleans (1801), The Bride of Messina (1803) and William Tell (1804). He and Goethe worked to recruit a network of writers, philosophers, scholars and artists to their cause.

This alliance, which lasted until Schiller’s early death in 1805, later became known as ‘Weimar Classicism’, and it came to form a part of the foundation of 19th-century Germany’s understanding of itself as a culture and, after Bismarck’s unification of Germany, a nation.


  • T. J. Reed, The Classical Centre. Goethe and Weimar 1775-1832 (Croom Helm, 1980)
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