“This will make a beautiful painting. Alas, it will be too big for our Nordic housings,” Goethe remarked on this life-size portrait in 1786 in Rome. Wrapped in his travelling coat and resting, he is surrounded by antique finds. His expressive three-quarter profile dominates the composition. His pensive gaze is directed into the distance. This masterpiece of the Städel Museum’s collection lastingly influenced our notion of the poet’s appearance, in spite of certain discrepancies in proportion and the enduring mystery of the two left feet.
Baroness Salomon de Rothschild, also known as Adèle Hannah Caroline von Rothschild (1843−1922), was living in Paris when she bequeathed this famous painting to the Städel in 1878. Her husband, Salomon James de Rothschild (1835−1864), was a member of the Frankfurt bankers’ family Rothschild. The painting had come into the family’s possession during travels in Italy in the 1840s. For a time, it was on display in their manor outside Frankfurt – Günthersburg, the present-day Günthersburgpark.