Caspar David Friedrich print - Monk by the sea - 1808
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Caspar David Friedrich - Monk by the sea
Year: 1808 - oil on canvas 172x110 cm
Preserved at: Alte Nationalgalerie, Berlin, Germany.
The infinite sublime sadness of little Friedrich
Caspar David are the names of the painter whose surname was Friedrich and was born in 1774.
His biographical case could be taken as an example of how family tragedies and sadness experienced as a child affect character and emotions when one grows up.
Dramas in series
Sixth of ten children, a soap and candle maker begins losing his mother at the age of 6. Two sisters later died, the first a few months after her mother and the other in 1791.
The dramatic story it refers to, however, is the one linked to when the adolescent Caspar, skating on ice, happened to be in a point where the ice broke and precipitated him into the freezing water.
His brother Johan dived to help him and actually saved his life, but his generous gesture was not rewarded, because he himself died sinking into the cold water.
A similar debut will mark Friedrich throughout his life and there will be no escape for him even in the last few years, marked by sadness, depression and eventually dementia.
Despite all this, the painter was able to express himself through his works, was appreciated and perfectly represented the romantic ideals, the sublime and those feelings of loneliness and despair that are common to many.
Now let's explore this specific picture of his: the Monk by the sea.
The picture is large and measures 110x171 cm. It was painted in 1808. Although nature and landscape are fundamental to Friedrich and his teacher Johann Gottfried Quistorp took his pupils outdoors, Friedrich made his paintings indoors in his studio. The composition had many admirers, including the King of Prussia who bought it. Arthur Schopenhauer interpreted it as the pictorial translation of the feeling of infinity.
From the pictorial point of view there are two important reliefs. The first is a technical stratagem: the lack or, better still, the voluntary elimination of what the French call "repoissour", that is, subjects in the foreground or figures that can guide the observer's gaze.
Here Caspar David creates a uniform surface, where the gaze has no precise direction ... it gets lost, vague, doesn't know how to organize itself and that's exactly what the painter wanted, to bring the viewer into the state of bewilderment he wanted to convey.
A landscape of this kind, as a second point, is a prelude to abstract art. In fact, we identify the monk because the title tells us about it otherwise it could be a speck of color, a rock, or something else.
The low horizon and the large confused surface between sky and sea seem pretexts to allow only color to express itself.
A grandiose "painting of nothingness" where, thanks to Friedrich's skill, we are forced to identify ourselves with the little monk lost in front of the immensity of nature and its perennial mystery that sometimes silences us, transmitting that sense of infinity in front of which we can only feel lost.
This bewilderment that will have submerged the soul of Caspar David Friedrich, that life hit so hard as a child, obtaining in exchange only an immeasurable pictorial talent, which perhaps he would have gladly given up for a little less sadness.
Those who wish can see the video on the @pitteikon channel on YouTube.
Andrea Giuseppe Fadini