Extended essay Visual Art How does Caspar David Friedrich’s works of art emit the existence of human

Extended essay Visual Art How does Caspar David Friedrich’s works of art emit the existence of human

Extended essay
Visual Art
How does Caspar David Friedrich’s works of art emit the existence of human, spiritual and supernatural life in nature?

How has Friedrichs life affected his paintings in a way that they emit the existence of human, spiritual and supernatural life in nature?

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Table of content

Research topic —————————————————————————————- 1
Research question————————————————————————————-1
The evolution of Friedrichs painting style——————————————————–4
The German Romantic Period———————————————————————-6
Analysis of Friedrich’s Paintings——————————————————————–7
The Abbey in the Oakwood ————————————————————————-8
Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog——————————————————————10
Two men contemplating the moon—————————————————————–12
Friedrich’s Contemporaries————————————————————————–14


Caspar David Friedrich was a German landscape painter who played an important role in German Romantic period. He is best known for his mid allegorical painting which have influenced a lot of artists and he is one of my inspirations, I have done appropriation work based on him and his painting The sea of fog.

In this essay, I will be exploring the existence of human, spiritual and supernatural life in his work, this is something I started to learn by doing this research, it has opened my mind up to experience his work in a whole new way. His paintings will be analyzed throughout the essay as well as studying the meanings of the paintings that have been chosen, as most of his paintings resemble a deeper religious meaning it is very important to analyse the spiritual content of the work. But mainly focusing on the mystery of life and death. I will also be mentioning the German romantic period and Friedrichs role in it. I will be focusing on how Friedrichs life has affected his paintings because there is a visible evolution in his art throughout his life.

Friedrich’s landscape paintings were a new way to view the world and nature and this is one of the reasons he was an important part of the German period because he was an innovator of the integration of this culture. I will analyze three of Friedrichs paintings, which are “The sea of fog”, “The Oakwood Abbey” and “Two Men Contemplating The Moon”

The evolution of Friedrichs painting style
First of all his paintings are advanced and unique, This is one of the reasons why Friedrichs paintings were so popular. The integration of spiritual significance in his landscapes really questioned the existence of spiritual and supernatural beings or even contemplating the existence of higher power. In this sense his paintings have never reflected a specific view. He emits this kind of feeling by using dramatic perspectives, and mystical factors as the nature in his painting can be seen as figures in the shade, for example the tree in his paintings would look like unique creatures among other trees which represented the spiritual beings in his paintings. that make the viewer wonder about what they see, for example painting uninhabited landscapes and different shapes and forms to make them subtly look like divine spiritual figures in nature. Friedrich use of these techniques which results in his moody landscapes, this pushes the audience to get more involved with the idea persuaded by the painting, and this creates an emotional connection with the audience and his painting.

Friedrich embodied the romantic notion of sublime, through his depictions of fog, mist, light, and darkness, He carried this infinite power and timelessness of the natural dimensions in his paintings. The viewer of the painting would be reminded of how inferior and insignificant they are compared to the power of nature. He chose to paint for himself rather than to please others and gain popularity, so his unique style helped him transform his landscapes from simple forests to wooded wonderlands, where each tree or branch symbolizes something greater.

His early work consisted mostly of only landscapes but further on he started placing human beings in his paintings and his color palette consisted of brighter colors. It has been mentioned that he started adding more figures to his landscapes because he recognized the importance of human life. The technique called “Rückenfigur” is when a person seen from behind contemplating the view. This lets the viewer see the same picture and share the same experiences with the human. Friedrich has used this technique in most of his paintings.

Later in life Friedrich was inspired by the concept of afterlife, his new style emitted a sense of loneliness. He started painting in Sepia and ink because painting in oil became difficult due to the loss of ability in his painting hand from his stroke, after this near death experience and there was a certain darkness in him which came out on his paintings as well as his private life, his brightened color palette used in his paintings faded away along with his fascination of spirituality and nature. Most of Friedrich’s paintings with faint colors and the attention to light has created a sense of emptiness that had influence modern art. The spiritual feeling comes from the techniques and style used by Friedrich such as the transparency, the blur, and shapes that conveys an idea of superior beings, these also create movements causing the audience to believe that a rock is something else, this is the magic in his painting and conveys something that is not there but is actually intended to create a sense of spiritual and supernatural things.

The German Romantic Period and Friedrich

The German romantic period was an assertive, intellectual and creative movement of German-speaking countries during the late 18 and early 19th century, this period influenced a variety of things including philosophy, aesthetics, literature, and criticism. The German Romanticism particularly valued wit, humor, and beauty.
The French Revolution had had a decisive impact on German Romantic writers and thinkers. The Napoleonic Wars brought so much suffering and ultimately led to a major restructuring of Germany. The upheavals of this period gave rise to a new desire for a uniquely German cultural movement that would explicitly oppose French rationalism. The arts deviated from the preceding conventions of the classical style as creativity, rebellion, and ingenuity became more important and Romanticism developed. By the 19th century, Romanticism had clearly been established and recognized as a major split in art. Masses of Europeans found the concepts of Romanticism appealing and the engagement of these concepts resulted in the reshaping of nineteenth century Germany. The Romantic Movement played a significant role in intellectual life.

German romanticists aimed to create a new form of art, philosophy, and etc because the German romantics became aware of the lack of cultural unity they were seeking for. In the Later years of German Romanticism, the artists focused on the tension between the everyday world and the supernatural extensions of artists, this relates to paintings of David Caspar Friedrich as he emphasized the tensions between nature and the afterlife and the supernatural world . His works are objects of secret passion shared by enlighten initiates of the art world and he was concerned more with feelings and spirits, this was portrayed in his paintings with the use ghostly medium of slight transparencies.

Friedrichs work was forgotten for a long time when the romantic period ended and realism started but it was revived in the 20th century and his reputation continued to get stronger in the 21st century. He died while his art was no longer desired in his time. His art was not popular because critics thought it was too personal to be understood by the viewer, completely disregarding the fact that that was what made the work so original in the first place.

Analysis of Friedrich’s Paintings

His first most important oil painting was called “The cross in the mountains” 1822. This was when he established his mature style, which was characterized by a sense of isolation, Friedrich’s paintings are mainly a part of the sublimity that he was experimenting with because all these have a presence of life, which is looking over at the much larger picture of the world that is much superior to mankind. These are a part of the intellectual and spiritual paintings that were experimented by Friedrich in the German romantic period, trying to see and understand both humans and nature and their relationship with each other and how they can both be admired. Romantic mysticism in his landscapes are utterly in keeping a new view of the world, a new awe in the face of nature in which man is an outsider and it is also a way of letting the audience be a part of the painting as well with the way they are standing with their backs facing forward it has an effect of being relatable as if the viewer was looking at the landscape.

“The artist should paint not only what he sees before him, but also what he sees within him. If, however, he sees nothing within him, then he should also refrain from painting that which he sees before him. Otherwise, his pictures will be like those folding screens behind which one expects to find only the sick or the dead.”
Caspar David Friedrich

The Abbey in the Oakwood
Caspar David Friedrich
Oil on canvas
110 cm × 171 cm (43.3 in × 67.3 in)
Alte Nationalgalerie, Berlin

This piece of work is called The Abbey in the Oakwood, or Abtei im Eichwald in German, painted from 1809-1810. This painting portrays a procession of monks walking towards the gate of an old Gothic church. Like most of Friedrichs paintings, he uses shadows to create an ominous scene, as one sees dark figures walking in procession towards the ruins of a church. Other stylistic elements, the painting appears mysterious and boundless. A very important element in this painting are the trees, it makes this painting relate to his theme of mystery. The trees look wild and untamed, and this dominated the painting, so much so that they act to outline the presence of the seemingly out-of-place church. The overwhelming existence of the trees and their untamed branches make nature appear to be a superior presence especially with the humans being painted so small without much detail.
Abbey in the Oakwood ( vertical arrangement of picture space into grids or strips) symmetrical characteristics of structuring spaces in the painting?? Illustrations such as “Expansive skies, storms, mist, forests, ruins, and crosses bearing witness to the presence of God are frequent elements in Friedrich’s landscapes. Even though death finds symbolic expression in boats that move away from shore—a Charon-like motif—and in the poplar tree, it is referenced more directly in paintings like The Abbey in the Oakwood (1808–10), in which monks carry a coffin past an open grave, toward a cross, and through the portal of a church in ruins.”

This piece, based upon studies of the ruins of Eldena Abbey, was painted in a studio but was based on “en plein air” sketches, meaning sketches done out in nature (Abbey). Just as was discussed previously, the Romantic era was a time of unique artistic expression, when artists focused on the aesthetics and emotion of paintings, as well as self-expression, rather than explaining every detail of nature and the human form scientifically (Romanticism). Friedrich clearly fits that style in The Abbey in the Oakwood, as one examines different elements of the piece.

His work has a wide range of geographical features, for example, rock coasts, forests, and mountains. He often used some landscapes to express the religious themes. During his time, most of the best-known paintings were viewed as expressions of a religious mysticism.

Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog
Caspar David Friedrich
98.4 cm × 74.8 cm (37.3 in × 29.4 in)
Kunsthalle Hamburg, Hamburg, Germany

Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog is said to be a self-portrait of Friedrich. The figure is standing in contemplation and self-reflection, who is mesmerized by the sea of fog with a sense of religion and spirituality. Friedrich painted this in his studio, but he did sketch it where he got inspired, Elbsandsteingebirge, in Saxony and Bohemia. As he was eternally inspired by German landscapes and has an emotional connection to the beauty of his homeland.

This work was a vertical painting oppose to the frequently seen horizontal paintings of Friedrich. The vertical canvas models the upright position of the figure in the painting. As mentioned earlier the Ruckenfigur technique has been used in this painting, so by showing his back towards the viewer he is enabling them to see the world through his eyes to share his experience but it also gives a mysterious effect for the painting. Also by using this technique, the viewer gets to appreciate the beauty of nature rather than focusing mainly on the figure. The light shines from beneath the rocks and highlights the fog. The rock the mysterious figure stands kind of remains as a shadow form. There is a questionable tone in the painting because the face of the figure is not visible but with the stance of the figure, he is seen as a confident person admiring and contemplating with nature. In line with Friedreich’s other works and the Romantic ideal, it seems fitting to believe that this wanderer stands in awe of the spooky nature before him.

Wanderer above the Sea of Fog. “You feel that those summits that you see in the fog are not just figments of an artist’s imagination. They’re not made in the studio. Each of these peaks and valleys, each rock, each tree, has been observed and then refigured and restaged in the painting.” Two hundred years after Friedrich painted the work, the dreamy contours of the natural world—and man’s dramatized, awed relationship to it—still transfix, translated via oils and canvas.

Two men contemplating the moon
Caspar David Friedrich
35 x 44.5 cm
Galerie Neue Meister

Two men contemplating the moon,1819, Friedrich revisited many of his works during his time, he has recreated this work twice, ” man and woman contemplating the moon” and “Two men contemplating the moon” in 1830. The symbolism of this painting was one of the strongest forces, which Friedrich executed with interesting lighting effects and color use. The aspect of the composition of Two Men Contemplating the Moon is its asymmetry. The canvas is crowded, leaving little space for the sky to peek through the branches and leaves of the tree. While the quiet, hanging moon centers the composition.

The most important symbol in this painting is the dead oak tree, which is said to have represented the state of Germany then. The war and the new Napoleon regime. Their clothes scream the same style of medieval German wardrobe, a style revived by rebellious university students and other intellects in attempts to promote nationalism. Wearing these kinds of clothing made them known for their distaste with the new regimes that were a result of the Napoleonic Wars. Rückenfigur technique is used in this painting as well, joins the viewer and the figures as they look together and ponder the moon, sharing the same view and experience.

Friedrich paints with a dark color palette, creating a nostalgic and mystical effect. As the moon shines through, it creates silhouettes in the foreground as darkness takes over both the figures and the oak. Their stance and intense thoughts, help develop a contemplative and serene mood. The moon, in all her greatness, commanding a quiet attention. All three versions in this series of moon contemplation paintings remain relatively similar except for the figures in the paintings. Using dramatic perspectives and misty, untamed expenses that dwarfed any figures,

“What the newer landscape artists see in a circle of a hundred degrees in Nature they press together unmercifully into an angle of vision of only forty-five degrees. And furthermore, what is in Nature separated by large spaces”
— Caspar David Friedrich

Friedrich’s Contemporaries

Karl Ferdinand von Kügelgen also explored the depiction of nature in his works, he made his name in 1809 in the Weimar competition where he painted the portrait of Goethe that became world famous. Then he moved to Rome to experiment more with his art. Later on, he moved to St Petersburg and became one of the most interesting landscapists of the age as worked for Paul I and Alexander I. His idea was to make the character of nature visible to regions that were virgin territory from the aesthetic point of view. He consistently reveals a highly individual feeling for the grandeur and dramatic effect of the landscape. He did not have the same ideas for art as Friedrich but he always defended him. His work shows in a very singular pattern, and if you want to get away from existing patterns you have to go back to nature, Jacob Philipp Hackert has supplied the most widely used blueprints of Italian landscapes, Hackett began by coping Claude’s paintings as a part of his studies at the Academy of Berlin, in 1768 when he moves to Rome he built up a large clientele among the European aristocracy, he was known as one of the greatest German painters and most painter who came to Rome after him used his paintings as a starting point for their own work.


So in conclusion, Friedrichs fascination for nature has changed throughout his life and the way he sees it has changed with how life has affected him. As he got older he explored more with darker colors and the mysterious and melancholic themes, because of his illness and strokes. This makes sense because he was so close to death that he was obsessed with seeing what was life after death, explaining his painting with the cemeteries, coffins, and shadows, and trees of death.

He is one of the most important landscapes artists of his time, even though he had a lot of critics, that was against his vision of art in the name of nature, religion, and even death, he wasn’t phased by the critics, he definitely painted what he not only saw before him but also saw within him as he advised, this was mainly one of the reasons his painting style has changed throughout his life because of the changes and the experiences he had, he could paint what he saw within him, which did not always result in the same theme.
His art embraces isolation and companionship, faith in the world and expectations beyond the world, these were a new levels of expressions used in his art. The idea of sacralized nature focused on the creator and it was expressed through the use of rear view figures. The reciprocal relationship between art and nature arises from mutual ignorance of which is primary and which is secondary. Friedrich followed his own advice not to confine himself to sublime scenes, such as bottomless oceans and loft mountains, and that a cornfield is enough, every flower and, stalk considered on its own is admirable and beautiful. All his thinking, feeling, and painting turned on the dictum that the divine is everywhere
Within his fabric everything is connected and dependant on everything else, so he doesn’t give a secondary status to anything in his creations.Emptiness in Friedrich’s paintings and the fullness of didacticism, same with contemporaries
Depicted himself, people in still surrender to the experience of nature

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