rudolf steiner in scandinavia, 1908

In ThetisMercurio’s post, there’s a photograph of Rudolf Steiner together with a little girl; it’s a section of the photo shown further down in this post. Diana then asked:

Could we get some armchair psychoanalysis here please? I can’t get that image off my mind. Is the girl happy that Rudolf Steiner is holding her or not? What does Steiner’s expression say? Does anyone know who she is, or when and where the photo was taken?

I knew the photo was shot in Norway and that I had it somewhere on my computer, and I subsequently managed to find it too.  Steiner, I think, looks a bit absent, but I don’t find the photo creepy the way Pete and Margaret did. I don’t really see what (some) anthroposophists see either:

… the eyes of the beautiful child embraced by Steiner speaks of acceptance, comfort and hope. Steiner’s eyes appear to speak over the years to a world in which all education is grounded in love and healing for future generations of children to flourish.

(This, I believe, is an interpretation heavily coloured by this person’s own admiration — love — for Steiner, and has very little to do with either the child or with Steiner.)

But this photo was taken long before Steiner started his own educational system, it was more than ten years before the first waldorf school was opened. He had no particular strategic reason to pose with a child in a photo. It’s clearly not something he did to appear ‘believable’ as the founder of a pedagogy, or anything like that. Not that he actually made it a habit to pose with children later either; as far as I know, he never did. Or, at least, such photos are not readily available online (I spent a ridiculous amount of time googling) and don’t feature in the books I have looked in. This photo is, in several ways, unique.

Look at the three pictures on page 13 of this document [pdf]: even though the middle photo (the one discussed here) is not dated, I think it’s reasonable to assume they were all shot on the same occasion, that is, during Steiner’s trip to Norway in 1908 (the first and the second photo seem particularly related, while the third seems to be from another location). The caption tells us that the girl’s name is Kari and that her mother, Marta Steinsvik, is also in the picture. (As is Marie von Sievers, top row to the right, glancing down towards Steiner.)

The 1908 trip was the year for Steiner’s first to Norway, he returned several times during the remainder of his life. In all, he held around 100 lectures in Kristiania (Oslo), a surprisingly high number. Steiner’s first visit took place on April 4-5, 1908, and was part of a tour to northern Europe. Before arriving in Norway, he had visited Stockholm, Lund, Malmö and Uppsala and after Oslo, he went to Göteborg (Gothenburg); all these locations are in Sweden. Upon leaving Sweden, he went to Copenhagen, Denmark. He returned to Norway later the same year (1908), during the summer, and this time, his itinerary didn’t include Sweden. He actually spent two July weeks in Norway in 1908.

This is to say, he made two visits to Norway in 1908, but he also visited Norway in 1909, as Tom pointed out. (And he returned again in 1910!) Already in 1908, he held 18 lectures there (three on the first trip, 15 on the second). There are details on Steiner’s Norwegian lectures in this document [pdf]. On his visits and on the early history of anthroposophy in Norway, there’s this article as well (though unfortunately for English speakers it’s again in Norwegian). See also Christoph Lindenberg, Rudolf Steiner — Eine Biographie (vol 2, p 434-435).

Marta Steinsvik, the girl’s mother, was the publisher of an anthroposophical journal in Norwegian, and it seems she was present at Steiner’s lectures. According to Johannes Kiersch (A History of the School of Spiritual Science, p 85, accessed via google books), she had a ‘leading role’ in the Esoteric School.

To return to the photograph: it’s definitely one of the more — maybe even the most — fascinating photos of Steiner. He does appear a bit distant and absent, but not in an extraordinary way. And, as is common for many older photos, people look solemn and rather stiff. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a photo of Steiner laughing for that matter, not even smiling. (There is maybe one photo I’ve seen where an inkling of a smile is visible, though barely, but that’s all.) Diana wrote:

I think in the end I was fascinated with the photo because it does show a more human Steiner than I’d ever seen. I don’t know of other photos where he is holding a child, or actuallly in physical contact with anyone.

I agree, and I don’t think I’ve seen any such photos either.  I googled as well as checked on my computer and found nothing even remotely similar to this picture. Which is quite strange, isn’t it — he founded a school, after all, and post 1908, he’s never been captured on photo with a child?

11 thoughts on “rudolf steiner in scandinavia, 1908

  1. Zo,

    Here are all the lectures in the GA which Steiner gave in Norway, of course excluding the mysterious “tours” of 1908 which are not in the GA

    In 6 trips to Oslo, he gave 78 lectures and maybe it was something in the water, air or ethers of Norway, but these lecture cycles are definitely among his most direct and controversial. Maybe that’s why Tarjei lives there!

    May 1909 — Pictures of the Apocalypse : GA 104a
    June 1910 — Mission of the Folk Souls: GA 121
    June 1912 — Man in Light of Occultism, Theosophy, Philosophy: GA 137
    October 1913 — The Fifth Gospel: GA 148
    November 1921 — misc. lectures: GA 79, 209
    May 1923 — misc. lectures (including World Pentecost) GA 226, 276, 291

  2. I’m too lazy right now, but this document lists all the lectures, incl those of 1908.

    I counted pretty quickly, but there are more than 100 lectures, probably around 110. 30 mystery lectures then.

  3. Also, Zo, yes he was in his Theosophical phase in 1908 (really until 1913), but nonetheless, there was usually a stenographer taking down every one of his lectures since 1905. There’s got to be some record of these lectures in 1908, even if just sketchy summaries, like many of the very early ones, 1904 and before.

  4. fascinating. I knew the photo quite well, so I was surprised to find other people hadn’t seen it before. I felt it was a more informal, human representation of Steiner, which is why I used it. Arresting images break up a long text, more to the point.

    I don’t think Steiner had any special or clairvoyant powers, of course and certainly no remarkable insights into children. I like the description of the first Waldorf school by Helmut Zander as ‘ad hoc’ – he made it up as he went along. He would have done better to stick to adults imo.

  5. It isn’t the most circulated photo of Steiner, which is odd, because it places him with children, and that’s an image the waldorf folks could use. Once you’ve seen it, you don’t forget it, though.

    I look through Lindenberg’s monumental volumes today, and there’s nothing like this in it. He isn’t that close to anyone on any photo as he is to that girl, and I found no other photos of him with children. (Except the child photo of himself and a sibling.)

  6. I suppose they want to present an image of Steiner & this doesn’t fit. It has to be made to represent the pedagogy, rather than be allowed to stand as a moment of relatively relaxed informality. He can’t be human, whatever they say about the ‘really human’ etc etc. And that’s a loss.

  7. Ah! great thinking. It didn’t occur to me, but it makes sense.

    I think it’s true that these Norway photos were relatively informal. The husband in the family (the Reitans) Steiner stayed with on his second visit was a professional photographer, and that’s probably why relatively many photos were taken of Steiner and those around him in Oslo already in 1908. I think he shot this one, though I can’t say for sure.

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