Monastery Graveyard In The Snow, Caspar David Friedrich's chilling allegorical vision of a Gothic ruin was painted between 1817 and 1819 and aptly characterizes the artist's highly symbolic and anti-classical style. The most prominent German artist of the early nineteenth-century, Friedrich's take on the dominant themes of the Romantic movement is an idiosyncratically contemplative one, situating the trials and tribulations of the individuals firmly in an equally fraught landscape. Monastery Graveyard In The Snow is a mystic reproduction of monastic life, a common theme in Friedrich's work. The teetering remnants of the ruined cloister are matched by the ominous parallels of the oak-trees and construct an architecture that unifies the man-made and the natural. Yet the artist does not situate the solemn procession as a naturalized element of the German countryside, instead Friedrich's is a stark criticism of Protestantism that many Romanticists believed was responsible for the sorry state of their contemporary Germany.
Beginning in literature with the 'Sturm und Drang' movement, Romanticism was born in Friedrich's Germany, then a scattering of states that would not achieve unity until 1871. Following the ravages of the Protestant Reformation and the Thirty-Years War that devastated the countryside, ruined shells of churches littered the landscape as a desolate reminder of the turbulent upheavals of the religious wars. Ironically, Friedrich's Monastery Graveyard In The Snow found itself in Berlin's Nationalgalerie during the Allied bombing of Berlin and, surrounded by the ruins similar to those it depicts, was destroyed in a raid in 1945. Tragically the original of this monumental work can no longer be approached, yet reproductions can give a sense of the disorienting, twisting filigree of the spatial architecture forged by this masterpiece of ritual and deterioration. This claustrophobic, Gothic space eloquently reflected the thematic, stylistic and formal concerns of the German Romantic movement in painting.
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