• The Tree of Crows

The Tree of Crows

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The Tree of Crows
Artist: Caspar David Friedrich
Oil painting on canvas; Size: 59x74cm; Louvre, Paris.

In the distance, on the left, we see Arkona, the site of an ancient temple on the island of Rugen; on the back of the picture is written Hunengrab ("Hun tomb"), indicating that the mound must once have been a grave. The bare oak tree, associated with the grave, alludes to the finality of death in the pagan world. The theme of the tomb is a very common one in Friedrich's work: in 1803 he had written the lines: "Why, I've often asked myself, do you so often choose as subject of your painting, death, transience and the tomb? Because to live in eternity, often means surrendering to death." Here too, as in the majority of Friedrich's painting works, the landscape takes on a religious connotation. The painting, which from the stylistic viewpoint centers on the silhouette of the complicated tangle of branches against the twilit sky, constitutes an effective application of the Goethean theory of colors: the cold tones on the very low horizon behind the mound create the impression of an almost infinite depth (a feature of Friedrich's painting that made a great impact on his contemporaries, and in particular on Goethe himself), while the reddening of the clouds, which seem to be moving toward us, makes the funereal outlines of the tree and the flight of crows stand out.

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