Dreams, Hallucinations, Dragons, the Unconscious, and Ekphrasis in German Romanticism

Ludwig Tieck's Skillful Study of the Mind

by Joseph D. Rockelmann (Author)
©2018 Monographs X, 164 Pages


When reading Ludwig Tieck’s texts, the reader becomes aware that dreams, the unconscious, and art play a key role. This study posits that Ekphrasis and dream interpretation are similar due to both analyzing a visual image and attempting to translate the visual into the verbal in order to gain a better and more complete understanding of it. This book discusses Tieck’s texts—Franz Sternbalds Wanderungen, "Die Gemälde," "Die Freunde," "Die Elfen," "Der Runenberg," "Liebeszauber," and "Das alte Buch und die Reise ins Blaue hinein"—and how Ekphrasis and dream interpretations are essential for gaining a more comprehensive understanding of the visual and dream image, resulting in new readings and insights. Furthermore, this book demonstrates that Tieck made major contributions to Ekphrasis studies by integrating notional, dynamic, and static prose Ekphrasis into his fictional works and thus should play a more important role in the current Ekphrasis debate.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Acknowledgements
  • Introduction
  • Notes
  • Works Cited
  • Chapter One: Andrew Becker’s Four Levels of Ekphrasis in Franz Sternbalds Wanderungen
  • Notes
  • Works Cited
  • Chapter Two: Dynamic and Static Ekphrasis in “Die Gemälde”
  • Notes
  • Works Cited
  • Chapter Three: Palaces, Sculptures, Dreams, and Hallucinations in “Die Freunde” (1797), “Der Runenberg” (1804), “Die Elfen” (1812), “Liebeszauber” (1812), and “Das Alte Buch und die Reise in’s Blaue Hinein” (1834)
  • Notes
  • Works Cited
  • Conclusion
  • Notes
  • Works Cited
  • Series index

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This book would have not been possible without the help and support from the following people: Beate Allert, Shaun Hughes, Jennifer William, Frederick Burwick, Julien Simon, and Christina Weiler. I would also like to thank Hampden-Sydney College for supporting this project with a Faculty Summer Research Fellowship in 2015, 2016, and 2017.

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The current study investigates how eighteenth and early nineteenth century dream theory, approaches to cognition, and Ekphrasis studies can be linked for the first time, leading to new interpretations of Ludwig Tieck’s narratives. His protagonists in “Die Freunde” (1797), Franz Sternbalds Wanderungen (1798), “Der Runenberg” (1804), “Die Elfen” (1812), “Liebeszauber” (1812), “Die Gemälde” (1821), and “Das alte Buch und die Reise ins Blaue hinein” (1834) are described as experiencing hallucinations and dreams in which they perceive either statues, pictures, or mental images to come alive, thus experiencing the Pygmalion effect. Alternatively, they may experience the opposite effect of seeing humans turning into visual artifacts. These effects in the context of Ekphrasis studies have never been recognized so far and it is the purpose of this dissertation to show how Tieck Studies contribute in substantial and innovative ways to Ekphrasis scholarship. In addition, I will to illustrate how the evolution of dream theory does not begin with Sigmund Freud but actually has its origins much earlier in German Romanticism, its literature, and its implicit theories from which Freud as the founder of psychoanalysis later drew upon for his ← 1 | 2 → basic materials in formulating his famous psychoanalytical approach to dreams. The sources that we find in Tieck are of utmost importance and they are also in dialogue with such early theorists as Carl Gustav Carus1 and Heinrich Schubert (1780–1860), who already during Tieck’s lifetime realized that the unconscious and dreams could reveal (or conceal) information about an individual but that such messages are coded. Carus claims in his book Psyche: Zur Entwicklungsgeschichte der Seele that “der Schlüssel zur Erkenntnis vom bewussten Seelenleben liegt in der Region des Unbewusstseins.”2 In order to understand dreams better and in order to shed new light on Tieck’s fiction, we can turn to the latest scholarship in Ekphrasis studies and also to cognitive theorists such as Calvin Hall, who believes that dreams are transparent rather than opaque. Furthermore, I shall tap into such a notion in my own approach to Tieck and investigate his use of prose Ekphrasis in order to increase the lucidity of his protagonists’ dreams. I shall open up new levels of understanding of his own wrappings of Venus, Otherness, and Self. The study links recent Tieck scholarship with exciting new approaches to cognition and Ekphrasis studies.

The protagonists’ hallucinations display the difficulty the individuals in the narratives have in differentiating between reality and the dream state. Oftentimes the dreams foreshadow the protagonist’s fate. The majority of literary criticism regarding Tieck has analyzed the importance of the dream and unconscious. However, the scholarship on Tieck and dreams has neglected how he has made use of Ekphrasis in his fairy tales, such as “Der Runenberg” and “Die Freunde,” when describing the statues the protagonists see in their dreams or hallucinations. Furthermore, none of the scholarship has looked into how a cognitive approach to Tieck’s texts would change the readers’ understanding. Rather, Tieck scholars have stayed within the boundaries of a traditional psychoanalytical reading.

Tieck makes use of Ekphrasis, dreams and hallucinations in his literary texts because he was aware that if he wanted his readership to have a real appreciation for the statues and paintings in his texts, he had to describe them in such detail that the visual image would become mentally visible for the reader. Frederick Burwick states, “Whereas the natural signs of pictures or paintings are immediately perceived, ← 2 | 3 → words must first arouse the ideas of which they are the arbitrary signs. Only then can the ideas be assembled in the imagination where they form the pictures (tableaux) that move us and the paintings (peintures) that interest us” (Burwick 222). Once the writer has achieved this, the reader will be able to identify with the enchantment the protagonists experience when they see these artifacts.

Tieck experimented with writing an ekphrastic text on the Madonna Sistina (c. 1514) by Raphael (1483–1520) after he had viewed it in the Gemäldegalerie in Dresden, which has been largely ignored by Tieck scholars. C.L. Bernays published a translation of it entitled “Ludwig Tieck on Raphael’s Madonna Sistina” in 1873,3 which highlights how Tieck felt after having viewed the famous painting for the first time.4 According to James Heffernan, “Ekphrasis is the verbal representation of visual representation”.5 Based on this definition, it can be argued that Tieck’s text falls into the category of Ekphrasis.

In order to have a true appreciation for what Ludwig Tieck is doing in his literary texts, the reader needs to be familiar with the history of Ekphrasis and Gotthold Ephraim Lessing’s groundbreaking text Laokoon. The questions I will discuss are: 1. Is it possible to translate the visual arts into the verbal arts? and 2. Do ekphrastic texts help our understanding or do they diminish the potency of the visual?

In an ideal world “one art [would] not attempt what another can do better.”6 Scholars and authors are well aware of the sheer impossibility of translating the visual arts into the verbal arts. Yet, both continue to do it and know, according to Grant F. Scott, that “there is something taboo about moving across media, even as there is something profoundly liberating. When we become ekphrastics we begin to act out what is forbidden and incestuous; we traverse borders with a strange hush, as if being pursued by a brigade of aesthetic police.”7 Ekphrasis has developed from being a purely mimetic equation, “ut pictura poesis” (‘as is painting, so is poetry’), to an interpretation of and elaboration on the visual image. “And the best poems of paintings are themselves works of art, offering a commentary upon or an interpretation of an artwork in its own right.”8 This has led to complications since ekphrastic texts have not always enriched the meaning of the visual but also changed or even replaced it. Michel Foucault states in regards to writing on art the following: ← 3 | 4 →

So do we have to accept the fact that each art has its strengths and therefore it is pointless to try to write on the visual and vice versa? If we were to accept this, the visual arts would be at a loss, since the viewers would not understand the visual composition as well and thus, be less likely to gain a complete understanding of the visual, lessening the impact the visual can have on its viewer. Cheeke makes a valid point when he states, “the poem knows something or tells something that had been held back by the silent image” (Writing for Art 6). When discussing Ekphrasis in this study it will be within the framework of James Heffernan’s definition, “Ekphrasis is the verbal representation of visual representation” (Museum of Words 3) and that of John Hollander defining Ekphrasis as “Poems addressed to silent works of art, questioning them; describing them as they could never describe—but merely present—themselves; speaking for them; making them speak out or speak up.”10 Ekphrasis has been established internationally and across the disciplines of literary and art studies, and it is advisable to combine Ekphrasis with Tieck’s literary works, since we can see in his texts how he masterfully combines literature with art and Ekphrasis.

[E]kphrastic writing reimagines the character or the contextual situation of the figures represented in the work, often embedding them within a mythic, historical, or anecdotal narrative larger than that immediately provided by the work itself. The ekphrastic poet describes otherwise invisible pasts and futures for the object, or raises questions about motives, contexts, meanings, and forms of artifice beyond what is merely given in the work, to the point of rendering the work itself almost as fantastic as one that is purely imagined.11

The visual image is a building block and starting point for Ekphrasis. It is up to the author to decide which direction the ekphrastic text is going to take, be it mimesis, critique, narrative or interpretation. Cheeke correctly summarizes Ekphrasis as “an example both of the creative act itself—through the Greek mimesis, imitating, copying—and of the ← 4 | 5 → secondary critical act of commentary, description, revelation” (Writing for Art 185). However, Ekphrasis can pose a threat to the visual image if it is too potent since it “is capable then of reorganizing the visual image so that we can no longer see what was there before it was written” (Writing for Art 177). Therefore, the ekphrastic compositions need to make sure they are not imposing their opinion or interpretation on the readers, otherwise one medium replaces the other which defeats the purpose of Ekphrasis, since it is supposed to help us understand the visual image better.

Tieck’s texts make a major contribution to Ekphrasis studies since he applies notional, dynamic, and static Ekphrasis in his texts in such a way that the images come to life. He understands the strengths and limitations of Ekphrasis since he experimented with ekphrastic poetry on his Italy journey in 1804–1806. Tieck’s poems were not trying to replace the paintings or buildings but rather were an homage to them, written in order to comment upon them, to show modes of interaction rather than claiming mere description or verbal replacement. Furthermore, they were a way for him to not forget about the paintings and buildings he had seen in Italy. These poems show that he had a thorough understanding of the text/ image relationship and his poems did not overshadow the originals. But what sets Tieck apart from other writers during his time is that he integrated ekphrastic texts into his novel Franz Sternbalds Wanderungen, his novella “Die Gemälde,” and his Kunstmärchen. The literary characters and their interests in the images determine which type of Ekphrasis they apply (notional, dynamic, or static). “The description of the spatial mode of a visual representation must give way to temporal narrative, … because the commentary is not simply about what is in the painting; it is also about what the beholder feels and thinks” (Burwick 235). As we will see in Tieck’s literary texts, the characters will not mention every detail of the painting but rather the aspects of the painting that they are interested in and intrigued by. Thus, each description will fall into a different category of Ekphrasis, which is determined by the viewer’s interests and emotions.

Tieck’s comments on Raffael’s “Madonna Sistina” in Eine Sommerreise shows the respect he had for the visual image. His prose Ekphrasis does not try to outdo the painting but rather comment on the virtuosity ← 5 | 6 → of it by closely describing the action taking place in the painting, since it can not do so itself.

Tieck focuses on the details of the painting, which the average viewer might overlook. By making the viewer aware of these details, the painting is being contextualized. Now it is no longer just a painting of three saints and Jesus, but rather a depiction of an encounter between these figures and how they initially react to each other.

Gotthold Ephraim Lessing states how important it is that the artist picks the single moment he/ she depicts on the canvas with great caution since this will determine the effect the painting has on its viewers.

Kann der Künstler von der immer veränderlichen Natur nie mehr als einen einzigen Augenblick, und der Maler insbesondere diesen einzigen Augenblick auch nur aus einem einzigen Gesichtspunkte, brauchen; sind aber ihre Werke gemacht, nicht bloß erblickt, sondern betrachtet zu werden, lange und wiederholter Maßen betrachtet zu werden: so ist gewiß, daß jener einzige Augenblick und einzige Gesichtspunkt dieses einzigen Augenblickes, nicht fruchtbar genug gewählet werden kann.13

Lessing is emphasizing that the single moment is all the viewer is seeing, and if it isn’t a fertile moment then the painting will be ignored but also there will be no life beyond the frame. “Dasjenige aber nur allein ist fruchtbar, was der Einbildungskraft freies Spiel läßt” (Lessing, Laokoon, FA, 5/2: 32).14 The painter does not have the luxury the poet has, since he only gets to depict one moment and not an entire story. Denis Diderot argues “Painting, […], contrary to poetry, has a limited thematic range, but at least it ‘shows’ (montre) its objects, while ‘a writer’s utterance designates (designe) all objects without showing any” (432). Thus, the one moment needs to elicit a million words in order to ← 6 | 7 → allow the viewer to contextualize the single moment he/she is looking at. But if the painting is based on a poet’s work, according to Lessing, then we have a double translation taking place: first, words into visual image and then visual image into words. “Meine Voraussetzung, daß die Künstler dem Dichter nachgeahmet haben, gereicht ihnen nicht zur Verkleinerung. Ihre Weisheit erscheinet vielmehr durch diese Nachahmung in dem schönsten Lichte” (Lessing, Laokoon, FA. 5/2: 59–60).15 Lessing believes just because one art is emulating the other does not make one superior, as long as one is not an exact replica of the other, because then the poet or painter did not think but allowed himself/ herself to be mesmerized by the other art and produce an object thoughtlessly.


X, 164
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2018 (January)
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, Oxford, Wien, 2018. X, 164 pp.

Biographical notes

Joseph D. Rockelmann (Author)

Joseph D. Rockelmann (B.A., Auburn University; M.A., Purdue University; M.B.A., Roosevelt University; Ph.D., Purdue University) is Visiting Assistant Professor of German at Hampden-Sydney College. His research interests are German Romanticism and Ludwig Tieck, Ekphrasis studies, visual studies and cognition, and psychopathology in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century German literature. He is currently working on a book project that is examining the role dreams play in G. E. Lessing’s dramas.


Title: Dreams, Hallucinations, Dragons, the Unconscious, and Ekphrasis in German Romanticism
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175 pages