By Jean Marie Carey

Novalis, the poet, naturalist, mystic, philosopher, and founder of Romanticism died 25 March 1801. The literary achievement of Novalis, born 2 May 1772, who worked in his family’s Saxony salt mine for much of his short life, was mostly overlooked during his life.

Novalis’ unfinished 1800 novel Heinrich von Ofterdingenintroduces both the “blue flower,” the symbol that became an emblem for all of German Romanticism, and the fragment as literary device. But the subject of the narrative is the titular character’s trip to Italy, a journey Novalis, then bedridden and dying of tuberculosis, realized he would not make but imagined with poignancy nonetheless, concentrating greatly on what he imagined the Italian art “scene” of the 1700s to be:

The mind longs for rest and variety. In no other country are there more charming singers, graceful dancers, and glorious artists. …Italy softens the manners and enlarges the scope of conversation. The ladies adorn all social gatherings; nor need they fear remark, if they prove their talent by emulating the mental activity of the men. Friendship and love are the guiding sprits of these pleasant meetings. Italians .. have much greater artistic talent than we have.

From Heinrich von Osterdingen in Novalis: His Life, Thought, and Work translated by M.J. Hope. (Chicago: McLurg, 1891), p. 64.

Andrea Capponi, Carved Niche (Villa Gamberaia (Florence, Italy)); 18th century; 20th century restoration. Photographer: Elizabeth Barlow Rogers.

Length of Italian silk and velvet, c. 1750. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Nr. 1992.15.

Anonymous Italian artist, Apollino, c. 1735. The Walters Art Museum, Baltimore, 54.1691.

Architects: Gabriele Montani and Johann Lukas von Hildebrandt; painters: Martino Altomonte and Leopold Kupelwieser. Peterskirche: The Healing of the Lame at the Temple Gate; The Virgin Immaculate; Interior: detail view of main altar from south. Building: 1702-1733; Altomonte altarpiece: early 18th century. Vienna, Austria.

Giovanni Volpato, L’Astrologio, after a painting by Francesco Maggiotto, 1743. Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, Nr. 1988.1.265.

Novalis, (c.1799), portrait by Franz Gareis.

Further Reading: The Novices of Sais: With illustrations by Paul Klee, translated by Ralph Manheim. (Brooklyn: Archipelago, 2005) 

Novalis. Heinrich von Ofterdingen. Chicago: Waveland Press, 1990. 

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