The German romantic painter Caspar David Friedrich, born on 5 September 1774, was one of the greatest exponents in European art of the symbolic landscape. He studied at the Academy in Copenhagen (1794-98), and subsequently settled in Dresden, often traveling to other parts of Germany. Friedrich's landscapes are based entirely on those of northern Germany and are beautiful renderings of trees, hills, harbors, morning mists, and other light effects based on a close observation of nature.

What sets Friedrich's work apart is his transformation of the landscape into symbolic meanings, often religious. His scenes are often empty of people, mysterious ravines, threatening cliffs, and a terrifying sea of ice. In these pictures, nature emerges not as some benign environment for mankind, but as a frightening threat to man's stability. Some of Friedrich's best-known paintings, however, are expressions of a religious mysticism. He painted a large number of compositions in which crosses dominate a landscape, but the central focus is on the landscape itself.

Even some of Friedrich's apparently nonsymbolic paintings contain inner meanings, clues to which are provided either by the artist's writings or those of his literary friends. For example, a landscape showing a ruined abbey in the snow, Abbey with Oak Trees (1810; Schloss Charlottenburg, Berlin), can be appreciated on one level as a bleak, winter scene, but the painter claimed the composition represented both the church shaken by the Reformation and the transitoriness of earthly things. But on still a third level, the romantics found it a spooky evocation of death, ruins, and nature reclaiming her place once disrupted by the puny efforts of men.

 For information on individual works, and enlargement of picture, click on thumbnail.

 The Cross in the Mountain
(Tetschen Altar)

 Abbey in an Oak Forest


 Morning in the Riesengebirge

 The Cross on the Mountain

 Monastery Graveyard in the Snow

 Wanderer above the Sea of Fog

 Chalk Cliffs on Rugen

 The Oak Tree

 Solitary Tree


 The Tree of Crows

 The Sea of Ice

 Cemetery at Dusk

 Eldena Ruin

 Man and woman contemplating the moon



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