wanderer above the sea of fog painting

Wanderer above the sea of fog painting
Some meaning of this work is lost in the translation of its title. In German, the title is “Wanderer über dem Nebelmeer”. Wanderer in German can mean either “wanderer” or “hiker”. [11]
The painting is composed of various elements from the Elbe Sandstone Mountains in Saxony and Bohemia, sketched in the field but in accordance with his usual practice, rearranged by Friedrich himself in the studio for the painting. In the background to the right is the Zirkelstein. The mountain in the background to the left could be either the Rosenberg or the Kaltenberg. The group of rocks in front of it represent the Gamrig near Rathen. The rocks on which the traveler stands are a group on the Kaiserkrone. [5]

Wanderer above the sea of fog painting
Wanderer above the Sea of Fog is true to the Romantic style and Friedrich’s style in particular, [6] being similar to other works such as Chalk Cliffs on Rügen and The Sea of Ice. Gorra’s (2004) analysis was that the message conveyed by the painting is one of Kantian self-reflection, expressed through the wanderer’s gazings into the murkiness of the sea of fog. [4] Dembo (2001) sympathised, asserting that Wanderer presents a metaphor for the unknown future. [7] Gaddis (2004) felt that the impression the wanderer’s position atop the precipice and before the twisted outlook leaves “is contradictory, suggesting at once mastery over a landscape and the insignificance of the individual within it”. [3]
In the foreground, a young man stands upon a rocky precipice with his back to the viewer. He is wrapped in a dark green overcoat, and grips a walking stick in his right hand. [3] His hair caught in a wind, the wanderer gazes out on a landscape covered in a thick sea of fog. In the middle ground, several other ridges, perhaps not unlike the ones the wanderer himself stands upon, jut out from the mass. [4] Through the wreaths of fog, forests of trees can be perceived atop these escarpments. In the far distance, faded mountains rise in the left, gently leveling off into lowland plains in the right. Beyond here, the pervading fog stretches out indefinitely, eventually commingling with the horizon and becoming indistinguishable from the cloud-filled sky. [3]

Wanderer above the sea of fog painting
To achieve this religious message, the depiction of mist was an important symbol for the artist. As he explained, “When a landscape is covered in fog, it appears larger, more sublime, and heightens the strength of the imagination and excites expectation, rather like a veiled woman. The eye and fantasy feel themselves more attracted to the hazy distance than to that which lies near and distant before us.” Positioning us before this vast expanse with no sense of foreground, he wanted to immerse the viewer in the experience of the natural realm; a dramatic field that he felt most closely expressed the beauty and power of God. This approach created a new possibility for religious painting, based not in overt Christian symbolism, but in direct contact with awesome beyond the control of man.
This painting, one of his earliest, embodies many of the Romantic motifs and themes he would address throughout his career, most notably the important symbolism of the landscape itself. Indeed, although the altarpiece includes a crucifix, the emphasis is placed on the spiritual essence of nature. He described the work: “High up on the summit stands the cross, surrounded by evergreen fir trees, and evergreen ivy twines about the base of the cross. The glowing sun is sinking, and the Saviour on the cross shines in the crimson of the sunset . The cross stands on a rock, as unshakably firm as our faith in Jesus Christ. Fir trees rise around the cross, evergreen and everlasting, like the hope of men in Him, the crucified Christ.” This was a groundbreaking reinterpretation of the genre of landscape painting giving it a new level of potential significance. It reflected Friedrich’s belief that the divinity of God could be best found in nature.

Wanderer above the sea of fog painting
A man stands on top of a crag of rocks, overlooking a valley cloaked in mountain mist. Other ridges rise through the fog, giving the impression of islands in a sea.
The success of this painting, I think, lies in the possibility of this ambiguity: that a scene of such glory can also pose the threat of tragedy or personal alienation. What is he thinking as he stands there? It is impossible to tell.

Wanderer above the sea of fog painting
Caspar David Friedrich
Friedrich chose to paint this landscape vertically instead of the much seen horizontal orientation. The upright position of the canvas models the uprightness of the figure in the painting.



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