Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s scientific writings have been rightly described by several scholars as an early precursor of later phenomenological thought. A main factor in such interpretations is Goethe’s insistence that we examine natural phenomena as experienced through the perspective of embodied spectators, and not from the distance of a detached, purportedly neutral gaze. At the center of these studies is his monumental book on color. Over a century later, the phenomenologist Maurice Merleau-Ponty explores color from a related point of view in numerous texts where he develops his own ideas concerning embodied perception and painting in particular. Uncannily close in many ways, Goethe’s and Merleau-Ponty’s respective understandings of color reciprocally illuminate one another. This article explores their adjacent theories of vision by focusing on an overlooked link between the two thinker’s projects: their mutual interests in atmospheric color. Whereas Goethe finds evidence for his color theory in looking up at the colors of the sky and contemplating the medial character of our surrounding atmosphere, Merleau-Ponty, this article argues, extends and radicalizes Goethe’s philosophy of vision by explicitly conceptualizing a notion of visuality itself as an atmospheric, colored medium.

You do not currently have access to this content.