The German romantic painter
Caspar David Friedrich, b. Sept. 5, 1774, d.
May 7, 1840, was one of the greatest exponents in European art of the
He studied at the Academy in Copenhagen (1794-98), and subsequently
settled in Dresden, often traveling to other parts of Germany. Friedrich's
landscapes are based entirely on those of northern Germany and are beautiful
renderings of trees, hills, harbors, morning mists, and other light effects
based on a close observation of nature.
Some of Friedrich's best-known paintings are expressions of a religious
mysticism. In 1808 he exhibited one of his most controversial paintings, The
Cross in the Mountains (Gemaldegalerie, Dresden), in which for the first
time in Christian art an altarpiece was conceived in terms of a pure
landscape. The cross, viewed obliquely from behind, is an insignificant
element in the composition. More important are the dominant rays of the
evening sun, which the artist said depicted the setting of the old,
pre-Christian world. The mountain symbolizes an immovable faith, while the
fir trees are an allegory of hope. Friedrich painted several other important
compositions in which crosses dominate a landscape.
Even some of Friedrich's apparently nonsymbolic paintings contain inner
meanings, clues to which are provided either by the artist's writings or
those of his literary friends. For example, a landscape showing a ruined
abbey in the snow, Abbey with Oak Trees (1810; Schloss Charlottenburg,
Berlin), can be appreciated on one level as a bleak, winter scene, but the
painter also intended the composition to represent both the church shaken by
the Reformation and the transitoriness of earthly things.