The idea of The Sea of Ice by artist Friedrich for the painting came from the polar expeditions of the ships Hecla and Griper, in 1819-20 and 1824, which received extensive coverage in the press of the time and inspired the work of several landscape painting artists. The slabs of ice breaking and sliding one over the other had been studied by the artist in a series of oils painted in the winter of 1820-21 while observing the frozen river Elba. In Friedrich's work the representation of nature always has a religious significance. His statement "the divine is everywhere, even in a grain of sand; once I depicted it in a canebrake" is famous: a sort of Romantic pantheism that found its most fitting expression in the genre of the "sublime" landscape, with the representation of endless spaces, of the sometimes terrible power of nature, capable of crushing human beings. The elements of the landscape take on a precise significance, in a sort of symbolic code that can be deduced from the artist's own writings and figurative works: thus the ice represents eternity and the wrecked ship, the mortality of human life.
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