Greifswald in Moonlight
- Artist: Caspar David Friedrich
- Creation date: (1817)
- Object type: Painting
From a shoreline in the foreground, dotted with rocks and a series of fishing nets slung over upright stakes, the viewer’s gaze is led over a body of water to a moonlit city on the horizon. The full moon, which may be glimpsed through a layer of clouds, casts its reflected light on the objects in the foreground. We can also discern a rowboat approaching, and two skiffs lying atilt on the beach.
The fishing nets act as a fence between the viewer and the city, which lies as a dreamscape on the horizon. The silhouette of the steeples reveals that the city is Greifswald, the artist’s birthplace, depicted in reverse. A sister painting in the possession of the Hamburg Kunsthalle depicts the city in daylight, though seen from a different angle and with correctly placed steeples. Despite the intricate details of his paintings, Caspar David Friedrich’s concern was thus not with depicting the scene realistically, but rather with conjuring up a certain mood, with the mediaeval city of Greifswald portrayed as an allegory of the yearning for Paradise.
With his composition of the physical landscape, Friedrich manages to create an enigmatic, sublime landscape of emotion. By connecting the church and the moon, the sea and the sky, and the distant and the near, he synthesizes the earthly and the celestial.
With paintings such as this one, Friedrich, along with his younger Norwegian colleague J.C. Dahl, emerged as the founder of the romantic landscape painting. Both men studied, at different periods, at the Academy of Fine Arts in Copenhagen, and both would subsequently find an artistically fertile community in Dresden that would help stimulate and renew their art.
Text: Nils Ohlsen
Caspar David Friedrich
Born 1774 in Greifswald, death 1840 in Dresden, Tyskland