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January 13, 2021

Mid-Morning Art Thread [Kris]

Freidrich Winter landscape1.jpg

Winter Landscape with Church
Caspar David Friedrich

There is something different about the art of Caspar David Friedrich. He was a German Romanticist, but his artwork reaches so deep into the soul that the emotional reaction is, many times, indescribable. His work is sublime. Friedrich is in my personal top three artists of all time because of paintings like this. Although he had a long career, a large amount of his works were lost during World War II during the bombing of Dresden.

This is a simple, quiet landscape with a foreground dominated by a small patch of pine trees and large boulders. Hidden within the trees is a roadside crucifix. The dull color scheme of white, brownish-green and brown, and the ridged verticality of the tallest tree effectively hide the cross. You have to look close to see it. Additionally, the viewer does not see the cross from the more familiar front, but from a near-profile view. This also hides it.
Scattered in front of the trees are a pair of crutches. Their owner has stumbled his way out to this altar and sits in silent worship, facing the cross. The man is small and leans against the large rock in the center. His hands are folded in prayer. Because he is dressed in similar colors as the landscape, he too is hidden from the viewer. The crutches aren’t laid down, but are flung to the side, and he then hobbled to his present location. This act was deliberate and excited. What initially started as a quiet landscape slowly becomes a scene of spiritual significance and quiet devotion.

A hazy, cold atmosphere and fading light cause the landscape to recede quickly into the middle ground. A dense fog curtains the background, but out of the fog the spires of a Gothic church emerge. The spires mimic the straight verticality of the trees, and the trees recreate the tall, textured structure of the church. Because Friedrich covers the bottom of the church in the swirling fog, it erases its physical connection to Earth. The building just hangs there. I can imagine the fog swirling around it, hiding it sometimes or revealing it—like it fazes in and out of reality, like a mirage. The uncertain reality of the church gives this work a deeper, mystical quality. As we approach the small altar in the trees, does my mind conjure the church like a Rorschach image? In the viewer’s mind-eye, a horizontal line will connect the very top of the tallest tree to the highest point of the tallest church spire, connecting the two images visually. Is Friedrich trying to create a visual simile?

The random crucifix in a forest is a common theme in Friedrich’s art. Friedrich believed that God could be experienced in nature as well as in a church, and that that might even be the more pure form of worship. He thought tall pine trees resembled Gothic architecture and could create natural cathedrals for a more personal worship. But this imagery may add another layer of meaning here. Both the pine tree and Gothic architecture were symbols of Germany, especially Gothic architecture (which is weird since the Gothic style was invented by a French priest). After the Renaissance, this medieval style was viewed as “barbaric” when compared to the more desired Classical style, so it was named after the barbarians that toppled Rome—the Goths. Since the Goths were Germanic, the symbolism for Germany stuck. So now the deep religious imagery might take on a secondary nationalistic undertone. Additionally, this was painted during the Napoleonic Wars when the Germanic states were under French control. Is Friedrich the crippled man, or Germany itself? Has Germany been damaged by Napoleon and know it hobbles out to a quiet, pure, Germanic place for prayer and healing?

The most beautiful aspect of this work is how a viewer can feel this work without getting involved in its possible politics, and still not lose anything from the experience at all. Much art from this period cannot say the same. Friedrich’s art is contemplative, personal, and deep. It is both beautiful and sublime, in equal measure, and succeeds at reaching the very depths of this viewer’s soul.

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posted by Open Blogger at 09:30 AM

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