CreditsDirector: Dr Walter Koch Original music: Pavel Blatny: Johannes G Fritsch
Catalog number # 348
18 minutes Color
Age Range: 14 to Adult
Closed Captions and Interactive Transcript
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Landscape as language, in memory of Caspar David Friedrich, solitary, 1774-1840. The monk by the sea is Caspar David Friedrich himself. Man is confronted with space, whose infinity gives him an awareness of his own insignificance and impotence. The writer Kleist said of this picture "In its uniformity and illimitability the only foreground is the picture's frame and thus it happens that the observer feels as if his own eyelids have been cut off." As a painter Friedrich tries to comprehend the phenomenon of nature as a symbol. The overpowering experience of nature collides with the no less overpowering impact of the unfathomability of one's own experience. Reflections on death, the major content of the picture "The Abbey in the Oak Forest". The poet Theodore Koerner wrote: "The source of mercy flows now into death and those are the companions of bliss who pass through the grave into eternal light." For Friedrich landscape is a religious experience.
Caspar David Friedrich the son of a soap boiler was born in Greifswald in 1774. In 1794 he entered the Copenhagen Academy. After 2 years he returned home, still searching for what he wanted. This was from the very beginning typical of him. His circle of friends remained restricted. He said "The painter should not paint only what he sees before him, but also what he sees in himself. Should he see nothing in himself then he should refrain from painting what he sees before him.
Friedrich was only just born when a wave of change shook the world. The North American colonies declared their Independence. The American Constitution came into being. The Constitution of the USA set an example to the rest of the world. Meanwhile in Europe the reforms of Frederick the Great and Kaiser Joseph II had an enlightening effect, they paved the way for a new type of thinking. 1789, the French Revolution. Talk was all of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity. Down with the Monarchy. The French King Louis XVI died on the scaffold. France was reborn and the reaction was Europe. France spread the ideas of her own devolution far beyond her own borders. The new ruler of France Napoleon Bonaparte. He won campaign after campaign for France and himself, with many a Moody sacrifice, and thus won supremacy on the European Continent. 1807, Napoleon's defense and offensive alliance with the Czar.
Caspar David Friedrich despised Napoleon but lie was apolitical, he was only a critical contemporary and not susceptible to the temptations of his age. His art is less an expression of the age in which he lived, than the endeavor of an individual to come to terms with the problems of his own existence. Landscape becomes an allegory, a form of language. Dawn over the Riesengebinge, the cross as an image of Christ's sacrifice. The rising sun represents a promise of resurrection after the night of death. The light motif of Caspar David Friedrich. "Why, and the question was often put to me, do you so often choose as the subject of your paintings death, passing and the grave? To live but once eternally you must continually surrender unto death."
Ludwich Richter said of Friedrich: "He sees the forms of nature only as forms and hieroglyphs".
Other contemporaries also noted the linguistic character of his painting. But later, this his conscious aim was forgotten. His landscapes were considered landscapes as such, with the aim of stimulating emotions of a chiefly melancholy kind. This was a really tragic misunderstanding, and one which lasted over 150 years.
The Graves of Ancient Heroes was one of the pictures he painted under the influence of the German uprising against Napoleon. This mixture of political and Christian allegory fits in with the religious motivations underlying the rebellion against Napoleon.
The wanderer is the painter himself. A mountain behind the valley of death. A divine symbol. The rainbow is a symbol of peace. The artist seems to have painted this picture as an article of faith and as witness to his own concept of nature.
In his paintings, Friedrich always gives the observer a chance to see something other than what he really intended to express. He commented on his own painting Cross over the Baltic Sea: "For those who see it thus a consolation, for those who do not a Cross."
Napoleon's star sinks. Europe joins forces against him. The great Corsican was finally beaten in 1813 in the Battle of Leipzig. The Continent was drained of hope, yet hope came.
In the years following 1815 Caspar David Friedrich experienced new beginnings. "Darkness covers the earth all certainty is uncertainty. But the sky at evening shines and clarity breaks through from above."
In l8l6 Friedrich held an outstandingly successful exhibition in Dresden and was thereupon elected a member of the Dresden Academy. The painter said "Close your bodily eye that you may first see your own image with the eye of your spirit, then bring out what you have seen in that darkness that it may work upon others from the outside inwards. The only true source of art is our own heart."
The path the woman is standing on is the path of life. It ends without warning. The long mountain in the background a symbol of the Divine. The clarity of form, an expression of absolute faith in God. Man and the achievement of his ultimate aim. For the painter this is an unusually bold attempts to show the condition of eternal life and men's resemblance to God.
Time strides on a pace, the nations are disappointed in their hopes of freedom sorely won. Constitutions are imposed from above. The machinery of Government, Bureaucratic and restrictive stifles all endeavors for freedom. The dominance of those who have always ruled is still further reinforced. The people are dissatisfied, impatient, rebellion impends.
In the early 20s Caspar David Friedrich scales a new creative pack. He says of himself: You call me a misanthropist because I avoid the company of my fellows, you are wrong, I love my fellow men, but if I don't want to hate them I have to avoid their company. In the evenings I wander through field and meadow and blue sky above, around me and near the green seed and green trees, and I am not alone, for He who created Heaven and Earth is about me and His love supports me. I must give myself up to that which surrounds me, I must be one with the clouds and rocks if I want to be truly myself."
Changes in time. For Friedrich the painter these were vital, whether epochs, age or as in this cycle the hours of the day. The discipline at work was an important counterbalance for the deep disturbance wrought in him by nature. Almost all his works were painted in the studio from his sketchbooks. Friedrich was forced to the realization that only few of the art lovers and intellectuals of his time were able to appreciate his art. At the age of 41 he married, the simple Caroline, 19 years his junior. The painter said: "It is always a very good thing to have a wife and I find it very odd that in everything I undertake I will and must consider the interests of my wife first. In short since I changed the I into a We a lot has changed.
Town people, strangers to these surroundings, watch a natural drama, the moon's rising. The composition of this picture, a magic symbol challenging the spectator to guess it's meaning. Trees for this painter are symbols of life and death, in survival and decay. The Watsman is a district that Friedrich never actually saw with his own eyes. His representation of the mountains peak follows a water color of one of his own pupils. The sea of ice too, Friedrich never saw this either. This unusual motif was chosen as being an image of an unapproachable divine majesty. The eternal ice represents the eternity of God and the wrecked ship the weakness and transitoryness of man as compared to God*
The industrial age has now begun. Some pile riches on riches. The common man is used. Exploited. The year 1830 marks the new Revolution in France. Charles X loses his Throne. The Revolution spread to other European States. In the German areas of Europe too, bloody unrest is countered by force. Friedrich said in I83O: "The latest news the Council were said to have resigned, to the joy of all the citizens, somebody said it was the best thing they had ever done."
Around this time changes were noted in the painter. Self-mistrust and doubt threatened his private life. A friend says: "In his strange unapproachable and often unresilient soul, prejudices had developed, obviously the precursors of brain disease". The pointer himself said "My works will never find recognition and to the very degree they over-praised my works in former times they will now find fault and scorn me, for I have insulted those honest men and called them rascals.
Expressions of bitterness and disillusion with the world in which he lived are not his Iast words. How else could one explain the quiet wisdom of his last paintings. His portrayal of the ruins of an ancient age is not an expression of his longing for Italy, but rather an expression of his criticism for the then fashionable enthusiasm for antiquity.
Friedrich died in 1840 on 7 May. His death was little regarded by the art loving public, for a new school had gained favor, pathetic naturalism. His endeavor to solve his own problems AB an individualist must necessarily have restricted the circle of those to whom his art really meant something. His art is net a great cultural heritage as such, it is rather a documentation of human dualities which challenges the individual to reflect. And yet it seems as if our age is beginning to comprehend a new the great theme of Caspar David Friedrich. The confrontation of Men with infinity.
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