From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Italian Journey (in the German original: Italienische Reise) is Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's report on his travels to Italy from 1786–7, published in 1816–7. The book is based on Goethe's diaries. It is, however, smoothed in style, lacking the actual spontaneity of his diary report, and augmented with the addition of afterthoughts and reminiscences.
In 1786, Goethe had travelled to Italy via Innsbruck and the Brenner Pass. He visited Lake Garda, Verona, Vicenza, Venice, Bologna, Rome and Alban Hills, Naples and Sicily. He wrote many letters to a number of friends in Germany, which he later used as the basis for Italian Journey.
While in Italy, Goethe aspired to witness and to breathe the conditions and milieu of a once highly — and in certain respects still — cultured area endowed with many significant works of art. Apart from the impetus to study the Mediterranean's natural qualities, he was first and foremost interested in the remains of classical antiquity and in contemporary art. During his stay in Assisi, he did not visit the famous Giotto frescoes, but only visited a Roman temple there; many critics have questioned this choice. He travels onto Verona, where he enthusiastically commends the harmony and fine proportions of the city amphitheater; he asserts this is the first true piece of Classical art he has witnessed. Venice, too, holds treasures for his artistic education, and he soon becomes very fascinated by the Italian style of living. After a quick pit-stop in Florence, he arrives in Rome. It was here that he met several respected German artists, and made friends with Johann Heinrich Wilhelm Tischbein and notable Neoclassical painter, Angelica Kauffmann. Tischbein accompanied him to Naples and painted one of the most famous portraits of Goethe, Goethe in the Roman Campagna, which was never completed. During the journey, the two later separated due to their "incompatible" interests. After leaving Rome and entering Palermo, Goethe searched for what he called "Urpflanze", a plant that would be the archetype of all plants.
In his journal, Goethe shows a marked interest in the geology of Europe's southern regions. He demonstrates a depth and breadth of knowledge in each subject. Most frequently, he pens descriptions of mineral and rock samples that he retrieves from the mountains, crags, and riverbeds of Italy. He also pursues several dangerous hikes to the summit of Mount Vesuvius, where he catalogues the nature and qualities of various lava flows and tephra. He is similarly adept at recognizing species of plant and flora, which stimulate thought and research into his botanical theories.
While more credibility can be attributed to his scientific investigations, Goethe maintains a thoughtful and admiring interest in art. Using Palladio and Johann Joachim Winkelmann as touchstones for his artistic growth, Goethe expands his scope of thought in regards to Classical concepts of beauty and the characteristics of good architecture. Indeed, in his letters he periodically comments on the growth and good that Rome has caused in him. The profusion of high-quality objects of art proves critical in his transformation during these two years away from his hometown in Germany.