Romanticism

6 Shades of Romantic Creepiness in Caspar David Friedrich’s Paintings

Zuzanna Stańska 24 August 2016 min Read

Caspar David Friedrich was a master of the romantic atmosphere. Gothic ruins, contemplative figures silhouetted against skies and morning mists were his domain. Like scenes from a horror movie, they are like all the Gothic clichés and reflect his obsession with death and afterlife. Are you ready for a little contemplation?

1. The Abbey in the Oakwood

Caspar David Friedrich, The Abbey in the Oakwood, 1809-10, Alte Nationalgalerie, Berlin
Caspar David Friedrich, The Abbey in the Oakwood, 1809-10, Alte Nationalgalerie, Berlin

A procession of monks, some of whom are carrying a coffin, heads toward the gate of a ruined Gothic church in the center of the painting. Only two candles light their way. A newly dug grave yawns out of the snow in the foreground, near which several crosses can be seen. The waxing crescent moon appears in the sky. The subject of death so typical for the artist is related to what Friedrich had lived through since his childhood: his mother died in 1781, one year later, his sister Elisabeth died of smallpox; his brother Johann drowned while he was trying to save Friedrich, who had sunk below the ice in 1787, and in 1791, his sister Maria died of typhus. Even Friedrich attempted suicide around 1801 and later, in 1809, his father died while Friedrich was painting The Monk by the Sea.

2. Greifswald in Moonlight

Caspar David Friedrich, Greifswald in moonlight, 1817, National Gallery, Oslo
Caspar David Friedrich, Greifswald in moonlight, 1817, Nasjonalmuseet, Oslo

Friedrich wanted to create a religious feeling through landscapes. The magnificent nature was the evidence that God exists. He often presented people overwhelmed by their environment.

3. Monastery Graveyard

Caspar David Friedrich, Monastery Graveyard, 1918, destroyed
Caspar David Friedrich, Monastery Graveyard in the Snow, 1918, destroyed

Monastery Graveyard In The Snow was destroyed during the air-raids of World War II, only a black and white photograph remained. This image has the color replaced. It is hard to imagine more Gothic painting.

4. Two Men Contemplating the Moon

Caspar David Friedrich, Two Men Contemplating the Moon, 1825-30
Caspar David Friedrich, Two Men Contemplating the Moon, 1825-30, Metropolitan Museum of Art

These two figures are probably Friedrich himself, at right, and his friend and disciple August Heinrich. Fascination with the moon was typical among the German Romantics, who regarded the motif as an object of pious contemplation.

5. The Cemetery

Caspar David Friedrich, The_Cemetery, 1825, Galerie Neue Meister, Dresden
Caspar David Friedrich, The Cemetery, 1825, Galerie Neue Meister, Dresden

By 1820, Friedrich was living as a recluse and was described by friends as the “most solitary of the solitary”. In June 1835, Friedrich suffered his first stroke, which left him with minor limb paralysis and greatly reduced his ability to paint. As a result, he was unable to work in oil; instead he was limited to watercolour, sepia and reworking older compositions. The motif of the graveyard now began to appear with greater frequency in his oeuvre.

6. A Walk at Dusk

Caspar David Friedrich, A Walk at Dusk, about 1830 - 1835, The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
Caspar David Friedrich, A Walk at Dusk, about 1830 – 1835, The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

This melancholic painting symbolizes Friedrich’s loneliness. Winter, dying nature, they all promise death. Only the waxing moon high in the sky, symbolizes Christ and the promise of rebirth for the artist.

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