Monday, August 30, 2010


Jens Stegger Ledaal
date unknown

Friedrich Schiller died in 1805 and was buried in a mass grave. Twenty-one years later, the German playwright's mortal remains were exhumed. Karl Leberecht Schwabe, the mayor of Weimar, decided that the largest of the 20-something skulls in the grave could have only belonged to Schiller.

For safe-keeping in his home, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe removed his confidant's skull from the library where his entire skeleton was displayed. Goethe later wrote the poem "Lines On Seeing Schiller's Skull."

In 1999 it was revealed that a group of scientists exhumed Goethe's skeleton to conserve it in November 1970, nearly 140 years after his death. The German polymath's skeleton also comes with paleopathological interest. Opinions on the source of Goethe's stiff gait and posture were qualified, proving ankylosis (stiffened or consolidated joints) in his spine due to loss of intervertebral discs, spondylosis deformans (degeneration of intervertebral discs), and Morbus Forestier (fusion of several vertebrae).

Busts commemorate. Whether or not the back story is commemorated in the skull piece pictured above doesn't matter for my liking. Norway-based artist Jens Stegger Ledaal carved into a ready-made bust of Goethe, revealing what we know would naturally lie beneath. Most skull pieces I've seen are standalones that never reference the face or entire head. They are sculpted or embellished, but in this case features are removed in order to create. Grim might be a characteristic that comes to mind, but clever and brainy wins out.