In the previous articles in this series, I have looked at many of the paintings made of Part One of Goethe’s play Faust. That told the tragic story of Gretchen, caught up in the pact between Faust and the devil, which was largely an invention by Goethe.
Much less well-known is the second part of Faust, which draws more on the legend of Johann Faust, the semi-historical figure. Goethe struggled to write his final version of this, which wasn’t published until just after his death in 1832. It has been relatively seldom painted. This article takes a whirlwind tour through this second part, to the accompaniment of visual art – mainly illustrations – which tell its story.
Faust wakes up in a flowery meadow, from where the scene changes to the emperor’s court just prior to a meeting of the Council of State. This is implied to be the Holy Roman Empire, whose finances Mephistopheles and Faust save by the introduction of paper money instead of gold; this encourages spending, so boosting the economy.
This is followed by a lengthy account of the Florentine Carnival ‘masque’, based on a 1559 account by Grazzini. Among the notable figures who appear there are the Fates, the Furies, and Dante.
The following morning, the emperor appears in a ‘pleasure garden’, and blesses the new paper money. The emperor and his court start to squander this money, in a satire based on the French Revolution. At the end of this act, Faust enters the ‘realm of the mothers’ where he summons the spirits of Helen of Troy and Paris. Faust falls in love with Helen, then destroys his illusion.
Faust is taken unconscious into his old study, as Mephistopheles poses as Faust and interviews his young student, who has now graduated. Wagner uses alchemical processes to create a homunculus.
Wagner’s creation of the homunculus is the one scene from Faust Part Two which has proved popular with artists.
Alfred van Muyden’s illustration of Scene: Laboratory, Wagner Creates the Homunculus from about 1840 is an early example which refers to popular imaginings of such alchemical processes.
This anonymous version of Homunculus, Faust part 2 is rather simpler in conception.
Franz Xaver Simm’s Homunculus in the Vial from 1899 uses light very effectively.
Moritz Retzsch’s line drawing for an illustration from 1836 is also more detailed and better-developed. Wagner holds the large glass vial in which the homunculus has been created, as Mephistopheles points towards the collapsed figure of Faust in his study, at the left.
The homunculus leads Faust and Mephistopheles to a Walpurgis Night in Classical Greece, populated by gods and mortals. Faust tries to search for Helen, as a result of which the sibyl Manto leads him into the underworld. Mephistopheles meets the Phorcyads or Graeae, and disguises himself as one of them. The homunculus starts to become human.
Margret Hofheinz-Döring is one of the few artists who covered this second part of Goethe’s play. With the Sirens from 1962 is a pastel painting which shows the Sirens among rocky inlets of the Aegean Sea, a sub-scene which concludes the second act.
Another of her pastels bears the enigmatic title of The Cap Brought, and is from 1972.
Helen arrives at the palace of Menelaus, her estranged husband, where Phorcyas (one of the Graeae) warns her that Menelaus intends to sacrifice her and her attendants. When Helen asks Phorcyas to save her, she and her attendants are transported to Faust’s fortress. Faust and Helen declare their love for one another before he defeats the army of Menelaus.
Faust and Helen then have a spirit son Euphorion, who falls prey to the same fate as Icarus, in flying too high and falling to his death at his parents’ feet. As with Eurydice, Helen’s shade then returns to the underworld, leaving Faust holding just her dress and veil. Phorcyas turns out to be Mephistopheles in disguise. His daemons then serve the emperor, enabling his victory over a rival.
By the final act, Faust is an old man who is favoured by the king, and pushes back the waters of the sea using dykes.
Alfred Roller’s Before a Palace from 1911 shows what is now numbered as Act 5 scene 18, in which Lynceus the watchman is addressing the aged Faust above him.
Seeing the hut of Philemon and Baucis, Faust orders Mephistopheles to remove the hut and its adjacent chapel. But the devil goes too far and kills the elderly couple. Faust is then blinded by the breath of the personification of care.
Faust then reveals his plans to improve the lives of the king’s subjects. This brings him a moment of bliss which he wants to prolong, to stop the clock – the agreed condition for his death. Faust then dies, and Mephistopheles tries to claim his soul under the agreement which they had made previously.
Angels appear and scatter rose petals to scare the daemons away; Mephistopheles stands firm, and the petals act on him as an aphrodisiac, making him burn with lust for the angels, who seize the opportunity to take Faust’s soul with them.
Émile Bayard’s Death of Faust from about 1870 shows him falling into a mountain gorge in the final scene, as Mephistopheles flies above.
There, Pater Profundus explains the parable of nature. Faust’s soul reaches heaven, then is pleaded by Eternal Womanhood – Mater Gloriosa (the Virgin Mary), Magna Peccatrix (the Great Sinner), Mulier Samaritana (the Samaritan Woman), and Maria Aegyptiaca. Una Poenitentium (formerly known as Gretchen) offers to lead the reborn Faust into the heights of heaven, a wish which is granted by Mater Gloriosa.
So ends Goethe’s play Faust.