Caspar David Friedrich – Man and Woman Contemplating the Moon

13 Sep

“there is a pleasure in the pathless woods,
there is a rapture on the lonely shore,
there is society where none intrudes,
by the deep Sea, and music in its roar:
I love not Man the less, but Nature more.”

(Lord Byron, Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage)

Caspar David Friedrich, Man and Woman Contemplating the Moon, 1818-24, 23 x 44 cm

Caspar David Friedrich, a German painter of Romanticism, preferred portraying nature over people. In this fairly small canvas we see three interesting figures; a man, a woman and a crooked tree with branches stretching wildly, as if they are about to snatch a poor soul who is wandering the woods at a midnight hour. This is definitely a tree that one cannot ignore and is so peculiar that it can rightfully stand as a third figure in the painting; Gothic and gloomy, it adds to the nocturnal atmosphere of mystery and dreams. In the darkness of the night trees, rocks and hills acquire strange, eerie shapes and one cannot separate what is real from what is not. While the night is enveloping the strolling couple with its velvet cloak, the woman rests her hand on the man’s shoulder and they are both fixated on the only source of light in the dark: the moon glowing low on the horizon, glowing with reassurance, hope and magic, it’s almost like a ray of light in the man’s dark path of life. It’s the very same moon that shows its pale face every night, the very same moon that we are seeing now; it is lasting and the man’s life is short. In that mystical way, the moon unites the couple and binds them together in a realisation at how tender and fragile their transient existences are, puts things into a perspective.

Echo and the Bunnymen, Crocodiles (1980), album cover

Caspar painted a similar version of the same motif which included two men contemplating the moon. And later, in 1840, a fellow painter Johan Christian Clausen Dahl suggested that the couple painted in “Man and Woman Contemplating the Moon” are Caspar and his young wife Caroline. It is interesting to note that the man in the painting is wearing a particular style of costume, an old German costume which was worn by German patriots to show their love of freedom and democracy. In one of my previous posts about Caspar David Friedrich I made a connection between the mood of his seascapes with the album cover for the Echo and the Bunnymen’s album “Heaven Up Here” (1981). This time I want to make a connection between Friedrich’s painting “Man and Woman Contemplating the Moon” and the album cover “Crocodiles” which features the band in a nocturnal woods. The picture was taken by Brian Griffin and it was suppose to represent “introspection and despair” which fits the mood of the album well. I am listening to those two albums a lot these days and I always have Caspar David Friedrich’s paintings in mind when I hear the music and some of the lyrics. I just couldn’t ignore how similar the aesthetics of the painting and the album cover seem to be; the nocturnal setting, woods, crooked trees…

4 Responses to “Caspar David Friedrich – Man and Woman Contemplating the Moon”

  1. smilla72 15th Sep 2020 at 5:33 pm #

    Nobody understands German romanticism better than you. I am speechless. I feel like old Salieri listening to young Mozart

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Lautreamont 23rd Sep 2020 at 7:15 pm #

    Strange that . You mention Brian Griffin.Stirred a memory I’d completely forgotten. Back in the 80s some guy-I can’t remember who or why- wanted to get photos of me, so I got taken down to Griffin’s studio. I’d never heard of him,but he did a load of photos of me in black and white. He was a really nice guy. He put on Iggy Pop while he was shooting. He’d just done the cover of Soldier and he told me a couple of stories about old Ig that were really funny, that I can’t repeat on a public forum! Weird though, I’d completely forgotten the whole thing till I read your post. Somewhere buried,I think I have copies of the photos less I’ve lost em. Anyway enough name dropping from me but thanks for reminding me.Like the Rilke post,and the Waterhouse painting.Best.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Byron's Muse 24th Sep 2020 at 4:10 pm #

      I always love to hear about your memories, you fascinating weirdo! Oh and I was just listening to Iggy Pop these days, a coincidence. Take care.


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