Statue of the Madonna in the Mountains

Caspar David Friedrich1804

The Art Institute of Chicago

The Art Institute of Chicago

This vast landscape by one of the central figures of German Romanticism dates from Caspar David Friedrich’s early years in Dresden, where he settled after studying in Copenhagen (then considered the artistic center of northern Europe). Subtly graded shades of gray wash evoke the gloomy, overcast days so common in Germany in November, when this image was created. The drawing also conveys, in the artist’s words, “Not only what he sees before him, but also what he sees within him.” In the center of the landscape, atop the highest peak, a tiny pilgrim kneels in prayer at the base of a statue of the Madonna. Nature—with its sheer, blank sky, stark hills, and mute firs—is depicted almost religiously. In this deeply spiritual image, humankind’s experience of nature seems as overwhelming as the unfathomable mystery of our existence. Just as the infinitesimal pilgrim wanders in this faraway, expansive landscape, so too did the artist embark upon his own Romantic quest, a search for meaning in the natural world that reveals the sacred.

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