Scene upon Leaving the Church


Pen and grey ink on thin vellum (watermark: J Whatman 1805)
Inv. No. 336

37.7 × 38.6 cm

zur  Biographie

Peter Cornelius’s Faust drawings are among the most typical examples of Nazarene draughtsmanship. The artist started on the cycle in 1810 in Frankfurt am Main, two years after the publication of Goethe’s drama, but only completed it in Rome in 1816. The drawings, twelve in all, large in scale and executed in pen and ink, were intended from the outset as designs for engravings to be published as a series of Illustrations to Goethe’s Faust. The first edition of the copper engravings – executed by Ferdinand Ruscheweyh – was produced by Johann Friedrich Wenner in Frankfurt in 1816. In 1836, after the publisher’s death, the drawings passed into the possession of the Städel from his estate.

When Cornelius arrived in Rome towards the end of 1811 and joined the Nazarenes, he was already able to show his fellow artists some of his Faust drawings. These included the fifth in the series, Scene upon Leaving the Church. In preparation for the copper engraving, of which many prints would be made, the drawing in grey ink is meticulously executed down to the smallest detail, using extremely delicate pen strokes. The paved square in front of a church (modelled on Ulm Cathedral) is the setting for the scene that dominates the foreground. Faust approaches Gretchen – »My fair young lady, may I venture to offer my arm and escort you home?« – but is turned down by the virtuous girl, who hurries away, saying, »I am neither a lady, nor am I fair; I can make my way home without an escort«. The artist has clearly tried to make his figures speak through their exaggerated gestures. 

In preparation for his Faust drawings, Cornelius carried out smaller pencil studies as well as drawings from models in which he concentrated on the figures’ outlines. He developed the technique of the final drawings – with their structure made up of many small parts and the modelling by means of penstrokes – from the tradition of the old German masters, especially the prints of Albrecht Dürer. He thus retained the formal academic language of neo-Classicism, re-interpreting it in his own way. When Goethe saw the first drawings in Weimar in the spring of 1811, he praised them above all for their empathetic rendering of a historical and, in the early nineteenth-century view, medieval world.

In his drawing style, in the narrative character of the scenes and his moralistic perspective on the romance between Faust and Gretchen, Cornelius differs fundamentally from his French contemporary Delacroix, who interpreted Goethe’s work only a few years later.

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