Caspar David Friedrich
Monastery Graveyard in the Snow

Click on the picture to see an enlarged version.

    • Oil on canvas, 121 x 170 cm.
    • Formerly of Nationalgalerie, Berlin
    • 1817/19

Ten years after first painting this scene, Friedrich returns to it for a monumental new treatment. Unfortunately, this picture, which he entitled Monastery Graveyard in the Snow (Klosterfriedhof im Schnee), was destroyed during the air-raids of World War II, and we only have this black and white photograph. Nevertheless, because of its subject matter, the absence of color is probably not very critical.

But I have included it here because it allows us to see how Friedrich took his earlier picture (Abbey in the Oak Forest) and gives it even more symbolic meanings. All that remains of the once grand abbey is a ruined nave, perhaps of the church. Now used as a cemetary, the trees have surrounded it, but unlike the earlier version, here the trees add majesty and grandeur as they stand like tall pillars around the sacred precepts, rather than intrude upon it as in the earlier version. And the grave-stones have been converted into monks, processing into the church.

Of course, the church is no longer

there, and neither are the monks. So the painting is a reflection upon the transitoriness of all earthly things. One could also interpret the picture in a spooky sense: the monks are ghosts haunting their former monastery, and the shadowy bleakness of a winter day makes them almost seem present.

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