They converged in the Glasgow Goethe Institute on the day before the bicentenary of E T A Hofmann’s death: professors from several UK and German universities (Durham, Exeter, Glasgow, Oxford, Bochum, Frankfurt am Main, Saarbrücken) came to present papers on intermediality in the works of a giant of late German Romanticism. The workshop was open to the public, and so I, prepped only with a hurried reading of of half-a-dozen short stories and a viewing of Maurice Sendak’s “Nutcracker”, decided to mosey along. This event would serve as my in-at-the-deep-end introduction to the writer. At the very least, I would be able to ascertain if my German, after an extended pandemic-enforced absence from German shores and 40+ years aways from academia is holding up. Relieved to say, it is. Not that I’m claiming to have understood every word, but, if my notebook is any indicator, I certainly picked up more than the gist.

E T A Hoffmann Self-Portrait)

E T A Hoffmann was a clever and talented man: a jurist, a composer, a music critic, an artist as well as a storyteller. No surprise then his tales are infused with music and art; they are, indeed, intermedial. The morning sessions were devoted to art in Hoffmann: with papers about the artists and their work featured in Hoffmann’s stories, his own doodlings, his self-portraits and his caricatures. Hoffmann had a predilection for paintings that insert unexpected details into everyday scenes. Jacques Callot’s copperplate of la Fiore de Gondreville (1624) for instance. Look out for the musicians perched like birds in the tree!

Detail from La Fiore de Gondreville (1624)

Salvator Rosa’s Landscape with Tobias and The Angel (1660-1673), its landscape, sublime yet full of threat, served as a model for Hoffmann’s brand of romantic horror.

Tobias and The Angel (1660-1673)

As landscape painting moved from painting nature idealistically to painting nature naturally, it’s not difficult to see where the preferences of Hoffmann, the Romanicist, lay. Certainly not with the paintings of Jakob Philipp Hackert, who painted only what he saw. Not what he felt. Compare and contrast Hackert’s landscapes (a painter for catalogues, according to Goethe) with those of Raphael (a visionary). Thus landscapes in Hoffmann’s writing aren’t purely for decoration; they are atmospheric, vivid, they move and change, and are decisive for the story to follow.

The afternoon was dedicated to the works of Hoffmann as depicted in modern culture: graphic novels, films, comics and modern illustrations. I came away from this desperate to find a copy of Drushba Pankow’s graphic novel, Fräulein de Scuderi (though I suspect I’ll have to settle for digital images). Conversely I now have no interest in watching Matthew Bourne’s Nutcracker (why must everything be sexualised?). The Glaswegian artist, Frank Quitely, whose exhibition at Kelvinhaugh Art Museum outsold the Van Gogh Exhibition, was in attendance to talk about his contribution to Neil Gaiman’s Sandmann series (plot lines have no connection to Hoffmann). German Artist Stephan Klenner-Otto also attended, and the final presentation of the day, replete with his illustrations of Hoffmann’s tales, couldn’t have brought a more fitting and entertaining end to a day, accurately described by Laurence Grove (Glasgow) as an intellectual and sensory delight.

I look forward to following these ideas (and a whole lot more) as I continue to make my way through Hoffmann’s oeuvre; You know, I’m quite hooked now, and at a bit of a loss as to why, with the exception of The Sandmann, I’ve never read him before. Hmmm – Hooked on Hoffmann – that has quite a ring about it. Great name for a forthcoming series of posts, don’t you think?