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in so much 19th century painting figures in active narrative a kind of story before us and we watch them as if we're an audience looking into this space but with the work of Caspar David Friedrich so often he gives us a small lone figure and instead of looking towards that figure we in a sense become that figure and we begin to see what the figure sees and that's exactly what we have here in the monk by the sea which is in so many ways are really radically modern pared down image we have this vast sky and it takes up the preponderance of the canvas it looks cold and it's clear at the top is wisps of the clouds but then it becomes much darker and much more menacing the ocean below looks freezing cold it's almost black we can just make out large swells of the waves and then below that the cold winter dunes presumably near greaves vault in northern Germany this is the Baltic coast and we see that monk below the Seas horizon line and because the figure that we're looking at is a monk we associate that figure with questions of the spiritual and so we immediately turn our thoughts in that direction he is caught in those narrow bands of the earthly he is below the horizon line but he is aware and we then become aware of the vastness of the spiritual realm of the sky above but also the threatening nature of the world in which we inhabit those white caps are just picking up the tops of what are really substantial waves and we can feel the power of nature the power of that ocean and I think that notion of the sublime was a very important idea at the end of the 18th and in the 19th century this is an ancient idea that was revived probably most famously by Edmund Burke in England the idea was that there is a kind of beauty that is actually all inspiring through its power and its terror and that was a way of Ecklie confronting God's presence in our world it's both the vastness of nature and the smallness of man and the powerlessness of man and this figure seems to look toward the right we know originally that Free Church had painted a ship on the horizon which certainly would have made this scene much more mundane you know the 19th century is the time most associated with man's control over nature and this is a kind of antidote to that this is saying no in fact nature is far greater than us our technological advances are allowing us to feel as if we have conquered nature here is a humble reminder that the opposite is really true it's right around this time that Mary Shelley is writing Frankenstein where man has the ultimate power of creating life like God and dr. Frankenstein is punished for the pride that makes him think he can rival God and so I think it's really true that at this moment at the beginnings of the Industrial Revolution we have a sense of our own power and at the same time we question that power you know the 19th century I think one of the key questions is how can the grandeur and power of god of spirituality be represented in our more scientific more industrialized culture so the monk by the sea is meant to be seen with a pendant and in fact is currently hung in the museum just to the left of the abbey in the Oakwood it's a wonderful pairing of paintings because they're both deep winter and the monk that is so contemplative in the monk by the sea is thought to have been the figure that is being carried in the coffin in Abbey in the oak wood you