Nov 25, 2015

Selfie with rock.
Taken from Caspar David Friedrich and the subject of landscape by Joseph Leo Koerner: “Ramdohr [a critic] does not reject Cross in the Mountains only by measuring it against the standard of tradition. He also detects something wrong with the scene itself: a fabric of errors which compromises the image’s aesthetic value and undermines the systematic character of Friedrich’s system. In Ramdohr’s account, the picture’s flaws arise from the ambiguity of the landscape’s implied viewpoint. From our position vis-à-vis the foreground, we as viewers feel ourselves stationed below the mountain’s summit, somewhere down its slope, so that we look upward at the cross. Yet Friedrich renders the crucifix itself as if it were observed from across, from some point in space high above the level of the foreground as it disappears under the lower framing edge. At such an altitude, Ramdohr correctly argues, the earth’s horizon would become visible beyond the summit, indeed would be approximately level with the crucifix’s base. To this ambiguity of viewpoint are added discrepancies in Friedrich’s treatment of light.”
I came across this analysis of the reception of one of Caspar David Friedrich’s most well-known works, Das Kreuz im Gebirge. It made me think of the Malerweg, a trail I walked last spring. The name is used for touristic purposes and refers to all the (Romantic) painters who were inspired by the landscapes of Saxon Switzerland. That’s in Germany. En route I found the rock Friedrich used for Der Wanderer über dem Nebelmeer. I was very excited as you can see because I attempted a selfie with the rock. I don’t get excited very often, because I failed to take a decent picture, or at least to give it more than one try. You can tell the angle of the viewpoint was difficult to manage because there was nothing to put the camera on. In fact, it’s so unclear you probably don’t believe me, so here’s another picture of the rock, with me behind the camera this time. The Rückenfigur is a device Friedrich often used, according to Koerner, to “infuse [his] art with a heightened subjectivity, and to characterize what we see as already the consequence of a prior experience”. I think he means that instead of helping us recreate the infinity beyond through identification, the Rückenfigur is blocking our chance of truly experiencing the sublime and infinite Nature. So we feel like we’re missing out, or losing something — very Romantic, I’d say. I wonder if I could argue that physically being on that rock turned me into the wanderer, the halted traveler, giving the experience a weird sense of Eigentümlichkeit. From the same book: “Much could be said about the multifarious use of the word Eigentümlichkeit by the German Romantics. Translatable variously as ‘peculiarity’, ‘characteristic quality’, or ‘strangeness’ Eigentümlichkeit relates to a complex cluster of words such as eigen (the adjective ‘own’, as in ‘one’s own’), Eigentum (‘property’), eigentlich (‘actually’, ‘literally’, or ‘truly’), and eigentümlich (‘strange’ or ‘eccentric’). Used by Kügelgen, Lilienstern, Tieck, Novalis and Schlegel to denote a principle of individuation, whereby everyone and everything has its own unique existence and character, Eigentümlichkeit functions as a key word within the Romantic theorization of identity. It locates truth within — or better as property (Eigentum) of — the unique, particular, experiencing and radically autonomous Self.” When you look at my selfie and the painting, you can tell Friedrich used the rock on a different scale in Der Wanderer, and of course what you see on top of that rock is not what you see in the painting. I took a picture of the view too, maybe I’ll show it you another time.