If you're seeing this message, it means we're having trouble loading external resources on our website.

If you're behind a web filter, please make sure that the domains *.kastatic.org and *.kasandbox.org are unblocked.

Main content
Current time:0:00Total duration:4:22

Friedrich, Abbey among Oak Trees

Video transcript

[Music] we're in the Altis National Gallery in Berlin and we're looking at Caspar David Friedrich Abbey in the oak wood it is a large painting and it was one of a pair that included the monk by the sea this is a very somber image and it really is a perfect example of the way Friedrich used landscape in order to represent issues of human life and of the divine that's right in this painting we see the ruins of an abbey in the old Abbey and a procession of figures entering this ruined Abbey carrying a coffin and so immediately we have a sense of the passage of time of the transience of human existence we're also looking at it seems the dead of winter and perhaps it's sunset if you look at the remnant of architecture that's left you have this first of all this very forlorn sense and from the ruins themselves but you see this old Lancet window that's fallen into disrepair no glass remains when you have a real sense of the grandeur of the original space but now what's left is just the futility of human experience the futility of human effort and what we see is nature is eternal but what man creates is transient you have the monks themselves going through their ancient ritual of burial but you see the cemetery that surrounds them in the snow is not well tended as haphazard and seems to be itself falling into disrepair the abbey refers back to the medieval tradition but that's now fallen away older than that are the oak trees which might have represented for Friedrich the druidic traditions the pre-christian traditions these truly ancient oaks gnarled and terrifying in their silhouettes but that speak of a tradition as witnesses that are even older than Christianity and then beyond that the crescent moon and the sky when you were speaking that's the nature that I was looking at that is permanent it is transhistorical that moves beyond even the growth and death of the trees certainly of the architecture of man's efforts I mean having a sense of the cosmos even beyond the seasons of the earth that's right and so you have this sense of human time you have a sense of nature's time and then you have the sense of the time of God's space and in fact if there's any optimism in this image it is that moon it is the faintest Crescent and it might wane even more and become a new moon but then it will regenerate and there is this possibility for rebirth you'd mentioned that it's the dead of winter but spring will come and so even if it seems quite distant now in this league Twilight there is the sense that there will be renewal so we may have a suggestion of resurrection in the cycles of the Moon we have the crosses that are part of the cemetery we have the cross that forms part of the ruin of the Abbey and that suggestion of Resurrection I think what's so interesting about free Trish is that he's imbuing a landscape with this very very serious meaning almost the way that in the past people had looked to the iconography of Christian paintings free churches looking for a modern language with which to express these transhistorical human feelings contemplating our role in the universe and trying to make sense of all of those layers of time that you referred to before that's exactly right Friedrich is finding a new way of representing these eternal issues and it makes sense that he would have to because this is now at the beginning of the 19th century Friedrich is now living in a rational culture and the idea of using the iconography of the Renaissance or even of the Baroque would feel implausible it wouldn't make sense and so Friedrich this artist who was trained in Copenhagen who grew up in Greece vault which was then part of Sweden on the southern coast of the Baltic he's looking towards the very extreme cold northern landscape is a way of expressing these ideas of the eternal [Music]