The Bookworm by Carl Spitzweg


The Bookworm


Carl Spitzweg

Ref RX83952-D2
Type Print
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The Bookworm (German: Der Bücherwurm) was painted by Spitzweg in 1850 and is typical of Biedermeier art, encapsulating the introspective and conservative mood in Europe during the period between the end of the Napoleonic Wars and the revolutions of 1848, but at the same time poking fun at those attitudes by embodying them in the fusty old scholar unconcerned with the affairs of the wider world. The painting was executed two years after the revolutions in Europe provided a shock to the stable world embodied in the dusty solitude of the library. In the lower left corner of the painting an old faded globe can be seen; the bookworm is not interested in the outside world, but in knowledge of the past. The picture shows an untidily-dressed elderly bibliophile teetering on top of a library ladder with several large volumes jammed under his arms and between his legs as he peers short-sightedly at a book. His black knee-breeches suggest a courtly status. The height of the library ladder can only be estimated: the globe suggests a possible floor height, but none of the floor is visible, heightening the sense of precariousness of the oblivious scholar's position. Equally the size of the library is unknown; the old man is consulting books from the section of "Metaphysics" (Metaphysik) — indicated by the plaque on the highly ornamented bookcase — which both suggests a vast library and underlines the otherworldliness of the book lover. Although The Bookworm is among the most obviously satirical of Spitzweg’s works and though none of his paintings show the cruel wit of Hogarth, there are parallels between the characters of Hogarth and those depicted by Spitzweg; the bookworm — carefully observed and knowingly detailed — would not look out of place in a scene from Marriage à-la-mode; indeed, Spitzweg is sometimes referred to as a "German Hogarth".