First Half of 19th Century
German Romanticism – The Window to Myself
What makes up a country’s soul? When did the Germans develop a common identity? Ironically, it was Napoleon Bonaparte who gave his easterly neighbors an important reason to develop their own sense of nationality. Although it was probably the last thing the Frenchman had in mind when he crossed the Rhine in 1805, in doing so he united the Germans in their aim of liberating themselves from their occupiers. It was against this backdrop that Clemens Brentano’s romantic ballad “Lore Lay” became a national myth, giving the people a cultural bond. Set near Rheinfels Castle, the poem about a beautiful, enchanting woman said to bring bad luck is still part of German cultural history today. The withdrawal of the French army in 1813 and Lorelei rock – two important images shaping Germany’s national identity united in one painting. This subject could have been painted by Caspar David Friedrich himself.
At the start of the 19th century, many people perceived the world to be an increasingly cold, rational and dispassionate place. Philosophy was dominated by Immanuel Kant and his theory of reason. Industrialization was continuing at a rapid pace, dramatically widening the gap between rich and poor. Artists wanted to break free from these constraints and discover their feelings, dreams and desires. Painters were turning against the severity of classicism in favor of individualism. They wanted their paintings to open a window to their own roots, worlds and feelings – using castles shrouded in mist, mystical places that look straight from romantic legends and longing gazes into the distance.
Ludwig Richter, Otto Runge and above all Caspar David Friedrich are among the most important representatives of German Romanticism. Friedrich is also the most famous painter of German landscapes, which he portrays in a mysterious, magical light. The artist, who alongside other figures such as Clemens Brentano and Heinrich Kleist became known as “friends of the Fatherland”, used his works to give substance to Germany’s growing sense of nationality, just like Brentano’s “Lore Lay”. The poem, which captured the soul of the Germans, was highly likely to have been familiar to Friedrich. However, he never painted a picture of it.