Saturday, September 21, 2013

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe Monument

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe Monument, 1913
Herman Hahn
Lincoln Park
North Sheridan Road at West Diversey Parkway

In the late 1800s, a committee of Chicago’s German-Americans decided to raise funds and pay homage to famous German writer and philosopher Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832). The original intent was to erect a monument in Lincoln Park, opposite his friend and famous compatriot, Johann Christoph Friedrich von Schiller. Munich professor and sculptor Herman Hahn (1868-1944) won a competition where several models were submitted to the Art Institute of Chicago by nine different sculptors. Dedication of the monument was greatly celebrated and attended by dignitaries, including then-mayor Carter H. Harrison on June 13, 1914, a month before the outbreak of World War I. By January 1919, dislike for Germans spurred a Chicago debate to rename nearby Goethe Street to Boxwood Place instead. (The change, however, did not occur.)
Per the request from the monument committee to create a work that was not strictly a figurative portrait, Hahn created a sculpture that embodied the “spirit of Goethe.” This 25-foot figure is reminiscent of a Greek god, possibly based on Zeus. He holds an eagle on his knee, symbolizing Goethe’s “Olympian” achievements. To the right of the statue is a low wall with a bas-relief portrait of Goethe and a quotation (in German and English) from his famous tragic play, Faust. The sculpture is bronze with a rich brown patina; it has been repaired and conserved several times over the years. In 1951, the statue suffered extensive damage after a lightening strike to the left foot. The Chicago Park District had the foot and ankle recast in one piece and reattached.

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