The Cross in the Mountains by Friedrich was commissioned in 1807 by Count Franz Anton von Thun und Hohenstein for the private chapel of the castle of Tetschen in northern Bohemia, was finished in December 1808. The idea of using landscape for an altarpiece stirred fierce controversy, set off by the critic Friedrich Wilhelm Basilius von Ramdhor, who considered it bizarre. The choice of landscape as a religious allegory can probably be traced back to the poet and theologian Gotthard Ludwig Theobul Kosegarten, who had commissioned a sacred work from Friedrich in 1806, and was in keeping with a Romantic sensibility of which Friedrich was the principal exponent in painting and that was increasingly popular with the younger generations. The painter himself responded to von Ramdhor's criticisms, giving his own interpretation of the Tetschen Altarpiece in a letter to the Dresden-based writer Friedrich August Schulz published in the Journal des Luxus and der Moden: "Jesus Christ, nailed to the tree, is turned here towards the sinking sun, the image of the eternal life-giving father. With Jesus's teaching an old world dies — that time when God the Father moved directly on the earth. This sun sank and the earth was not able to grasp the departing light any longer. There shines forth in the gold of the evening light the purest, noblest metal of the Savior's figure on the cross, which thus reflects on earth in a softened glow. The cross stands erected on a rock, unshakably firm like our faith in Jesus Christ. The firs stand around the cross, evergreen, enduring through all ages, like the hopes of man in Him, the crucified." The frame, which is an integral part of the work, was carved to Friedrich's own design by the sculptor Karl Gottlob Kuhn.
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