The imagery of time and season in the German Baroque and Romantic poetry

Jane Muenzer Mehl, Binghamton University--SUNY


Historians of German literature generally agree that the decisive turning point in the reappraisal of German Baroque literature was largely due to Heinrich Wölfflin’s seminal study Renaissance und Barock: Eine Untersuchung über Wesen und Entstehung des Barockstils in ltalien (1888). This monograph on the development of architecture in Rome represents the first significant attempt to distinguish Renaissance and Baroque art using purely structural terms. In it Wölfflin rejects an Aristotelian view of art as the imitation of nature and redefines art history as the study of artistic styles of different epochs, nations, and individuals, expressing distinct philosophies of life, aspirations, and manners of interpretation. Wölfflin’s approach, typical of a nineteenth-century scholarship preoccupied with the treatment of history as a process, identifies determinant historical factors operating in certain combinations and producing characteristic phenomena during any period. The general appeal of his method extends into the twentieth century.


ln Wölfflin's studies the term “Baroque” not only refers to the seventeenth century but also designates a periodically recurring artistic style which expresses a specific philosophy reappearing under various guises. The general validity of his approach and his set of categories for Renaissance and Baroque art established a basis for relating the art and literature of different eras. He formulated specific terminology for recurrent characteristics which twentieth-century German intellectual historians were able to apply to the Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque, and Classical periods. Although Wölfflin's importance should.not be exaggerated, his work represents an important critical practice of early twentieth-century studies and develops the concept of “periods” in a continuous literary history to the highest degree.

The most significant pioneering study which transferred Wölfflin's categories from art to literature is Fritz Strich's essay, “Der lyrische Stil des 17. Jahrhunderts” (1916). For the first time in German literary criticism, Strich utilizes the term “Baroque” as a non-pejorative designation for seventeenth-century lyric. Without acknowledging his indebtedness to Wölfflin, he applies the latter's categories consistently and interprets Baroque poetry within the framework of a continuous literary-historical tradition. To account for the origin of decisive formative principles, he cites lyrical impulses already apparent, in his view, in ancient Germanic poetry. At the same time he looks ahead to German Romanticism as a literary phenomenon which necessarily evolved out of the whole nature of German lyricism. For this reason Strich may be characterized as an exponent of the developmental, organic view of history with its recurrent “universals,” that is, underlying stylistic impulses.


[Nelly] Heusser’s comparison of Baroque and Romantic drama [in the 1943 study Barock und Romantik: Versuch einer vergleichenden Darstellung] presents convincing evidence that certain similarities in Baroque and Romantic thought and literary practices warrant a more extensive analysis. Underlying differences are apparent, although the general impulses and stylistic techniques examined by Heusser depend on categories devised by Hübscher and Strich, and apply chiefly to drama. Though influenced by earlier intellectual historians, Heusser offers new insights into alleged differences in Baroque and Romantic drama.