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Video transcript

when we think of 19th century landscape painting we so often think of an artist painting plein air that is painting outside before the landscape but that wasn't always the case in the work of Caspar David Friedrich his paintings were studio paintings they were inventions to a very great extent and that's certainly the case of the lone tree right he did studies outside in pencil and then would compose a painting in his studio it makes sense that these would be studio works because the Friedrich was using landscape to portray deeper ideas deeper meanings so this symbolic landscape includes a lone tree and what a tree it is gnarled anthropomorphic it's booming towards its bottom and we can see a shepherd underneath it gazing at his flock but as it rises up it seems to struggle as though its top has been blasted off by lightning or a terrible storm and it's struggling to just eke out a few leaves towards its top it stands like a lone Sentinel it is ancient Friedrich is creating this contrast between the ephemeral state of that Shepherd that one man's life what 7080 years as opposed to the thousand year old tree that has stood here through wars and storms we're certainly meant to look at the top of that tree that most beaten part where a few church has parted mountains and given us an expanse of blue sky and so that's the place where free just directs our case is it me or am I seeing a kind of cruciform organic but nevertheless a reference to the cross I think that's very likely there and we see a church rising above a small town but that church is tiny compared to the Cathedral that is this tree that is nature Friedrich is pointing us to a kind of older spirituality it's so interesting when we think about traditional or class of sized landscape s-say from the baroque we might think about the work of Claude Lorrain who had so carefully constructed a kind of system or formula for the representation of landscape in which trees function as a kind of curtain that is pulled aside to draw us into a deeper landscape that is trees frame the image they frame the deep landscape and Friedrich has done the reverse here he's made the tree he had the main protagonist the open spaces function as the frame for the tree it is this move away from classicizing although I do want to note that the idea of the Shepherd and the Sheep is very much a classical element that we might find in a Claude but it's also a Christian element a shepherd and his flock finding shelter under that ancient tree but even given that cruciform is a sense that maybe this tree is even older that it has a primordial spirituality perhaps it had witnessed the druidic traditions this tree is to link back to a past that is awe-inspiring in its ability to resist the forces of nature the forces of man the march of time you