Albert Bierstadt's view of the Gothic Revival chapel of the Löwenburg royal castle near Kassel, Germany, was based on an oil sketch he made in 1855 while a student at the Düsseldorf Academy. Given the religious subject, Bierstadt's poetic title evokes associations with spiritual enlightenment and darkness. However, he also contrasts the man with a top hat inside the sunlit church with the impoverished woman nursing her infant, who serves as a traditional Christian symbol of charity but is cast in shadow on the steps outside.
The oak tree, a symbol of enduring faith in the face of adversity, and also of Christ's cross, crucifixion, and resurrection, was adopted as the national tree of Germany. Bierstadt incorporated oak branches and leaves into his custom-designed, Gothic Revival frame. This historical style, inspired by medieval precedents, sought to endow many machine-made, mass-produced goods of the industrial era with an aura of spiritual value.