Art and architecture

Caspar David Friedrich

Farben der DHG Westmark

Outstanding 19th-century German romantic painter, whose awesome landscapes and seascapes are not only meticulous observations of nature but are also allegories.

Friedrich was born on September 5, 1774, in Greifswald and studied at the Copenhagen Academy. In 1798 he settled in Dresden, where he became a member of an artistic and literary circle imbued with the ideals of the romantic movement. His early drawings-precisely outlined in pencil or sepia-explored motifs recurrent throughout his work: rocky beaches, flat, barren plains, infinite mountain ranges, and trees reaching toward the sky. Later, his work began to reflect more of his emotional response to natural scenery.

He began to paint in oils in 1807; one of his first canvases, The Cross in the Mountains (1807?, Staatliche Kunstsamm-lungen, Dresden), is representative of his mature style. A bold break from traditional religious painting, this work is almost pure landscape; the figure of the crucified Christ, seen from behind and silhouetted against a mountain sunset, is almost lost in the natural setting. According to Friedrich's own writings, all the elements in the composition have symbolic meanings. The mountains are allegories of faith; the rays of the setting sun symbolize the end of the pre-Christian world; and the fir trees stand for hope. Friedrich's cold, acid colors, clear lighting, and sharp contours heighten the feeling of melancholy, isolation, and human powerlessness against the ominous forces of nature expressed in his paintings. As a faculty member of the Dresden Academy, Friedrich influenced later German romantic painters. Although his reputation declined after his death, 20th-century viewers are fascinated by his imagery.

Caspar David Friedrich (german)


MS Encarta 95

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Date of last change: 14.3.1999

Wolfgang H. Hanagarth