Artibus et Historiae no. 83 (XLII)

2021, ISSN 0391-9064

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TADEUSZ J. ŻUCHOWSKI - The Paintings by Caspar David Friedrich with the Figure of the so-called Chasseur (pp. 361–385)

The article considers three paintings executed by Caspar David Friedrich (1774–1840) at the end of the Napoleonic era. They are: Tombs of the Fallen Heroes, Rocky Valley (The Tomb of Arminius) and The Chasseur in the Forest. In the current literature they have been interpreted as a manifest expression of the painter’s anti-Napoleonic attitude. One of the key arguments invoked in favour of such an interpretation is the identification of the painted figures as French soldiers. They are wearing Roman-style helmets and short, mid-thigh blue capes with stiff collars. The first painting shows two such figures, the others just one. The analysis of the context in which these works were created raises doubts as to the validity of this interpretation. In particular, the paintings were shown after the Battle of Leipzig, in the Russian occupied city of Dresden, as part of the ‘Patriotic Exposition’ organized by Nicolai Repnin-Volkonsky, the Russian governor of Saxony. Studies ignore or disregard the fact that the Kingdom of Saxony supported Napoleon. We can conclude from Friedrich’s own words that the Saxons, with whom he identified himself, were as hostile to the Russian and subsequently to the Prussian occupiers as they were to the French. Moreover, in the contemporary press reviews only one Prussian government newspaper identifies the figure in the third painting as a French chasseur going to an appointment with death. Despite the long and strenuous efforts of scholars it has not been possible to identify beyond doubt that the uniforms are French.

It is therefore necessary to ask whether Friedrich’s intended message was indeed explicitly anti-French. This article presents a critical analysis of the composition of the three paintings, referencing the works by W. Schmied, W. Busch, W. Hofmann and others, and considers the role of the viewer (W. Kemp), and the sequence of the narrative reading of the image (M. Imdahl, M. Brötje).

The author arrives at the following conclusions: the figures in Roman helmets and blue capes are shown confronting the forces of nature but are unable to contemplate their beauty, in contrast to the experience of the viewer. Friedrich shows nature as powerful and dominating over human world and culture. The article proposes that the paintings with the figure of a romantic wanderer, who becomes a warrior, should be seen in the context of other works by Friedrich in which the wanderer, sometimes wearing a similar cape, is confronted with the forces of nature. The topoi of the wanderer in the underground and the wandering in the woods, are significant for the interpretation of these three paintings. These can be read as a metaphor for the loss of a romantic hero in the world of war.

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