Caspar David Friedrich was a German Romantic painter, born on 5th September 1774.
In June 1835, Caspar Friedrich suffered from a stroke and was paralyzed in his limb which affected his ability to paint.1 He died on 7th May 1840. He was born in Greifswald in Germany into a family of soap and candlemakers2, and was the sixth of the ten siblings.
He belonged to the 19th century, a period of romanticism, and was considered as one of the most important German artist in this century. Friedrich was considered as one of the most influential artist who gave out his ideas through gloomy and emotional landscapes.3 He began his studies in art in the year 1790 and was Johann Quistrop’s private student, in Quistrop’s home town.4 However, the first signs of his artistic talent were hinted from the years 1788 to 1789 through five sheets of his calligraphy during his schooldays and these calligraphic sheets and exercises provided with insights to his early life.
5 Under Quinstrop’s guidance, Caspar Friedrich had learned different line drawings of figures and studied the details of human body, such as, eyes, head, hands and feet, which further provided him with ideas of different basic forms.6 Friedrich further enrolled himself in Copenhagen Academy of Art under Quinstrop’s advise.7 He graduated at the University of Greifswald and finished his studies in 1798 and moved and settled in Dresden.8 In his earlier paintings, Caspar Friedrich expressed religious sentiments through ‘the power of nature’. It turned out that landscape became one of his main sources for making visual representations of the theme “sublime” (sublime- sense of awe or high emotions9).10 Caspar Friedrich used different themes in his artwork and some of the key influences in his work were as follows: Politics & war, Personal conflicts and his Religious beliefs. A number political events played an important role in Friedrich’s life and his paintings.
For example, The Napoleonic Wars. The elements he used, such as, elements like mountains, seas, men and women facing the landscape were all metaphors of human conditions. These elements also were metaphors of the life people went through after the Napoleonic wars and French revolution.11 One of Caspar Friedrich’s first paintings, after he had graduated was, Landscape with Temple in Ruins, in the year 1797. 12 This painting shows how nature played an important role in his artworks, alongside with his religious beliefs. This piece shows that the wars had crushed people’s faith and beliefs in their religions and how holy temples were shattered, causing ruin in the lives of people of certain religions.
War is a conflict carried on by force or arms, as between nations or between parties within nations.13 War can also exist in between two people. A person can go through emotional war within himself or herself.
Relating to art, war has always been a theme for artworks for many centuries At the time of the Napoleonic wars, Friedrich grew a lot of hatred towards France and he was awaken by intense love for his home country, Germany. He showed his patriotic support of the German liberation movements in his mountain scenes which depicts loss of French soldiers or monuments to German freedom fighters. His disappointment in the Prussian anti democratic restoration after the wars was portrayed in his painting of a ship buried in ice named Hope.14 The Napoleonic wars was a series of conflicts over the range of about 12 years, from 1803 till 1815. Which underlies the French Empire and it’s allies. The Napoleonic war was led by Napoleon 1 and it was against the European powers led by Great Britain.
The war was characterized into the following five: The Third Coalition (1805), The Fourth (1806 and 1807), Fifth (1809), Sixth (1813) and, The Seventh and final (1815).15 The Napoleonic wars ended with the defeat of Napoleon, which was then followed by the Congress of Vienna in 1814 and 1815. This Napoleonic war brought a lot of sufferings throughout Germany, and the Congress of Vienna ultimately led to the major restructuring of Germany.16 The Revolution of 1789 ( The French Revolution), which ranged between 1787 to 1799, also impacted and played an important role on German Romantic painters and writers.17 This played an important role in Caspar Friedrich’s artwork. War played an important role on people’s lives, especially on the lives of artists.
A few artists who were heavily influenced by war during the period of romanticism were, Francisco De Goya, Eugene Delacroix and Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres. Otto Dix was another war artist who described the propaganda of war. Caspar Friedrich’s painting, Burning House and Gothic Church, which consisted of a burning church and a burning house showed his hatred towards the Napoleonic Wars. The painting also indicated his trust in his religious beliefs which defied the terrors of the wars.18 Friedrich’s support for his country through his paintings became much clearer from 1812 onwards. One artwork in which his patriotisms is presented in is “Tombs of Ancient Heroes” which was painted in 1812 itself. The painting creates an image of helplessness and fear that the war had caused among the soldiers of Germany.19 Since the Napoleonic wars and the Congress of Vienna played important significance and influenced Caspar David Friedrich’s artworks, a few of Caspar Friedrich’s artworks related to them are as follows: 20 Moonrise by the sea.
Moonrise by the sea is an oil on canvas painting of a landscape of dimensions 55cm x 71cm and was dated finished on 1822.21 This painting shows that the three people, two women and one man, are sitting on a rock at the shore of the sea, looking towards the sea. In the midst, one sees two ships sailing, they could be coming towards them or moving away. The colour contrast between yellow and purple plays a very important role as it depicts a sense of ‘romanticism’ as a moonrise usually portrays a romantic feeling. The painting also shows that the moonrise is the only light the three people see.
This may mean that they’re looking for hope. Even though darker tones usually represents destruction, Friedrich uses a darker tone in this piece to indicate a peaceful mood. The moonrise also symbolises the open of the gates of heaven, which implies that the people are eagerly waiting for this massacre to end and to find peace in their lives.22 In my opinion, Friedrich painted this piece to show how people contemplate on life and romantically look far over the distant land to find peace because of the Napoleonic war. 23 The Abbey in the Oakwood. The Abbey in the Oakwood is an oil on canvas landscape painting of dimensions 110.4cm x 171cm. It was painted between the years 1809 and 1810.
24 This piece was inspired by the ruins of Eldena Church. The Abbey in the Oakwood consists of many tombstones and an abbey. Friedrich uses a dark tone and the colours used in this painting signifies darkness, death and sadness. Friedrich also uses a mix of colours to get a foggy look, which again indicates sadness. The tombstones symbolises death and, lack of faith and hope in people’s lives. The trees around the abbey depict that, because of the wars, the place is so stripped and horrid. The empty branches indicate that the leaves are gone and are never to come again showing that the people who have lost their lives due to the war will never be replaced or come again.
25 26 Two Men Contemplating the Moon. This painting was painted to express his feelings towards the Napoleonic wars and his political frustrations. The clothes worn by the two men are Germanic costumes and here, it symbolizes anti-Napoleonic views..27 This painting is also known as ” Two Men contemplating the sinking moon” the two men contemplating is Caspar Friedrich himself.
28 Caspar David Friedrich has gone through a lot of personal tragedies while growing up. These personal tragedies also influenced his artworks. First came the death of his mother, named Sophie Dorothea Friedrich in the year 178129, just when he was seven years old. A year after his mother had passed away, his sister Elisabeth died while his other sister, Maria, died of typhus (a bacterial disease) in the year 1791. But, the biggest tragedy in his childhood occurred in the year 1787. 30 When he was ice skating with his brother, Johann Christoffer, on a frozen lake, his brother fell through the ice and drowned to death.
Friedrich felt like it was because of him that his brother passed away.31 Johann Christoffer was considered to be Caspar Friedrich’s favorite sibling. Friedrich also produced a woodcut in memory of his brother (Sleeping Child on a Grave Mound) which symbolised death, despair and grief.32 This was one of the key turning points in Caspar Friedrich’s life and it played an important role in influencing the way he did his artworks. Another key influence in Caspar Friedrich’s life was his religious beliefs. Friedrich wanted to explore the different issues of his religion through his own art as he was brought up in a Christian family.
33 He interpreted his paintings as representing a man’s or a woman’s faith and hope in Lord Jesus Christ. We may not see religious symbols in his artworks. But, his paintings possess spiritual qualities. In one of his observations to the French Revolutions on art, Caspar Friedrich wrote, “The noble man (artist) recognizes God in everything…. Shut your corporeal eye so that you first see your picture with your spiritual eye. Then bring to light that which you saw in darkness so that it may reflect on others from the exterior to their spiritual interior.” 34 He also demonstrated his love for God through nature, in his paintings.
35 Friedrich’s religious beliefs further influenced him into the world of landscape painting.36 37 Cross in the Mountains. Cross in the Mountains is an oil on Canvas painting finished by Caspar Friedrich in the year 1807. Friedrich reflected this piece on his love for Germany, his homeland, and his personal faith, Christianity. This was Caspar Friedrich’s first major painting and was his first painting to gain appraisal. 38He was influenced by the Bible verse from Acts 17:24, ” The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by hands.”39 This verse strongly influenced him in his artwork during this point of time, as it made him reflect on the chaos created by man and the death of thousands of people because of the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars.
The rays in the background of the picture symbolizes the old-Christian world, as it was once peaceful and calm, but it wasn’t the same after the Napoleonic reign.40 The cross on the mountain signifies “the birth of a new world.”41This painting was considered as an altarpiece of pure landscape, and this was the first time in Christian art that one’s artworks was considered as an altarpiece of pure landscape. Cross in the Mountains was Caspar Friedrich’s most controversial painting and was also his most famous painting. 42 Caspar Friedrich was influenced by various artists. Carl Gustav Carus (German),Gerhard von Kügelgen (German), Jens Juel (Danish), Johann Gottfried Quistorp (German) and Philipp Otto Runge (German) were the main artists who influenced Caspar Friedrich through his life and in his artworks. 43 Carl Gustav Carus Carl Gustav Carus was a German painter born on the 3rd of January 1789 in Leipzig, a city in Germany. He played an important role during the era of romanticism.
44 He was close friends with Caspar Friedrich. Carl Carus’ embracement of religio-mystical romanticism and the influence of his religious belief strongly influenced Caspar Friedrich in his artworks.45 One such artwork related to his religious belief that influenced Caspar Friedrich was Mondnacht über der Ruine Eldena. This was a painting painted by Carl Gustav in the year 1840. 46 47 This painting strongly shows how religious belief influenced his artworks. I also noticed how Caspar Friedrich’s painting, The Cross in the Mountain, and Mondnacht uber Ruine Eldena have similar styles and show the artist’s’ love for their country and, the devastation and destruction caused due to the wars. Gerhard von Kügelgen Gerhard von Kügelgen (Full name: Franz Gerhard von Kügelgen) was a German artist born on the 26th of February 1772.
After he moved to Dresden, a city where Caspar Friedrich was settled, his house became a meeting place for most romantic artists. He painted portraits of Caspar Friedrich during his career. He was friends with Caspar Friedrich and an instructor too. He was killed by a thief while going to his studio and died on the 27th of March 1820.48 Since Gerhard and Caspar were friends and used to meet often, they started developing similar views on romanticism. Even though his paintings didn’t play an important role in Friedrich’s life, their discussions on the war during the period of romanticism influenced Caspar to portray different ideas in his artworks. Jens Juel Jens Juel was a danish painter born in the year 1745.
He was a painter for the Danish Royal Family and graduated at the Royal Danish Academy of Art.49 after his graduation, he moved to Dresden, Germany, and then became director of an art academy. Caspar Friedrich was a student of Jens Juel.50 It was under Jens Juel when Caspar Friedrich was influenced by landscape paintings and diverted his mind to landscape paintings. Johann Gottfried Quistorp Johann Gottfried Quistorp was a German Architect and Educator born on April 16th 1755 in Rostock, one of the largest German cities.51 He was regarded as Caspar Friedrich’s most important mentor. Johann Gottfried was Caspar Friedrich’s drawing instructor in University of Greifswald.
Taking his students outdoors played an important role on Friedrich rising to become an artist.52 Quistorp’s outdoor drawing with his students led Caspar Friedrich to precisely study nature. One also sees that nature was a main characteristic in his artworks.53 Philipp Otto Runge Philipp Otto Runge joined the Copenhagen Academy of Art five years after Caspar Friedrich joined the academy.54 Philipp Otto Runge was a German artist born on July 23rd 1777. He moved to Dresden and was a student alongside with Caspar Friedrich at Copenhagen Academy under Jens Juel. He was also considered as one of the best German Romantic painters.
He was deeply influenced by his religious beliefs ( Christianity). We see how he expresses he often used the colours blue, yellow and red to symbolise the Christian trinity.55 Studying with Caspar, both of their artworks influenced each other as religion played an important role in both, Otto Runge’s and Caspar Friedrich’s lifes.
Comparison of Artworks: The Abbey in the Oakwood and Cross in the Mountains. The Abbey in the Oakwood depicts death and horror after the ruins of the Eldena Church and indicates the faith and hope of the German people. It also indicates how faith and hope of the people are lost completely. Whereas, Cross in the Mountains is a more personal view of the wars and depicts his love for his country and his personal faith.
Even though the painting shows how the Napoleonic Wars have taken a toll on his country, Friedrich indicates that the Cross in the Mountains symbolises the birth of a new world after the Wars are Ended. The colours used by Friedrich in The Abbey in the Oakwood are pale shades of brown and green. The use of this pallet symbolises no faith and destruction of nature. Whereas, the colours used by Friedrich in Cross in the Mountains are green, black, brown and bright shades of orange and yellow.
The use of the bright pallet in this piece indicate that there is still hope after the Wars are over and that faith can still be restored among his country. Moonrise by the sea and Two Men Contemplating the Moon. Moonrise by the sea is a painting that show that people are looking over the edge, here the war, in order to find peace and hope.
It also shows that the German people still have faith. Whereas, Two Men Contemplating the Moon is a painted which related to his personal political frustrations and his personal frustrations towards the Napoleonic Wars. The pallet used by Friedrich in Moonrise by the sea are dark shades of blue and purple and, bright orange. Here, he uses the dark shades to portray romanticism when dark tones are usually used to portray destruction. Whereas, the colours used in Two Men Contemplating the Moon are shades of orange and green.
Here, orange is used to portray frustration. In both the paintings, the moon is referred to peace that is yet to be found.. There were a lot of quotes said by Caspar Friedrich which indicated how war was one of the powerful influence in his artworks. Few of his quotes are as follows: – “The painter should paint not only what he has in front of him, but also what he sees inside himself.”56 – “Close your bodily eye, that you may see your picture first with the eye of the spirit.
Then bring to light what you have seen in the darkness, that its effect may work back, from without to within.”57 One of the most influential speech quoted by Friedrich was, “Why, it has often occurred to me to ask myself, do I so frequently choose death, transience, and the grave as subjects for my paintings? One must submit oneself many times to death in order some day to attain life everlasting.”58 This quote shows how Friedrich brings out his personal experiences into his paintings, being both of war and of his past family experiences.
Caspar Friedrich was influenced by many different aspects in his artworks. Stating straight from his childhood. The key influences in his works were mainly conflicts, both, his personal emotions and family background and the influence of the Napoleonic Wars.
His religious beliefs also played an important role in his artworks as it played alongside with the terrors of the Napoleonic Wars. I also noticed how he was strongly influenced by the Napoleonic war and how the Congress of Vienna played a very important role in his work. The themes used by Caspar Friedrich were landscape and sublime, his loneliness and the numerous deaths he experienced in his childhood and during the wars, and over all the German folklore. We also see how war played an important role in an artist’s life and war was a key influence in most of their artworks. Throughout, we see that Caspar Friedrich’s paintings seem to be peaceful ones but they have a lot of meaning once you break them down and look deeper into them. As my art teacher said, “No piece of work is made in a vacuum.
Artwork is produced that reflects and challenges the hegemony or prevailing ideologies of a time.” According to me, I feel like his personal emotions and conflicts as well as the Napoleonic wars were the greatest influence in Friedrich’s paintings and it played a very important role in majority of his artworks.