Cloister Ruins at Eldena

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Caspar David Friedrich, Cloister Ruin at Eldena, c. 1825

"We stood together; and that I, so long
A worshipper of Nature, hither came
Unwearied in that service: rather say 
With warmer love—oh! with far deeper zeal 
Of holier love. Nor wilt thou then forget, 
That after many wanderings, many years 
Of absence, these steep woods and lofty cliffs, 
And this green pastoral landscape, were to me 
More dear, both for themselves and for thy sake!"
           "Tintern Abbey" by William Wordsworth

Caspar David Friedrich had three things for certain: a great disdain for Napoleon, an incredible talent for romantic painting, and a near obsession with churches and abbeys. The ruins of an Abbey in Eldena were one of Friedrich's favorite places and are featured in several of his most striking paintings. Other works like Abbey in the Oak Forest impart a hollow, haunting feeling, designed to slap the audience in the face, but Cloister Ruin at Eldena turns this feeling on its head. I can't help but to feel how alive this piece is in comparison. I feel it breathing with me, I feel the wind on my face, I hear the trees rustling, I smell the fresh dirt. It exists in front of me as real and vibrant as a human being.

The greens and rusty reds emphasize the all-encompassing mother earth, and therefore God. In composition, the placement of the archway draws the eyes immediately and the vertical alignment of the trees and columns intensify the perceived height and strength of this work, invoking divine majesty. The placement of the winding foliage and fallen logs create a comforting intimacy in the painting and further the theme of universality in nature.

The cloister and the trees rise in unison like great pillars from the earth. As the ruins of this beautiful abbey continue to decay, they meld with forest. The massive trees and remaining stone edifice have become one. God in nature, as nature. Friedrich shows the audience the soul of the romantic movement through the combination of a strong spiritual symbol becoming part of the natural world. As traditional God must decay, it lives on in its truest form: the earth, itself. The monks have moved on, but people are still there to worship and continue the human cycle of life, building their quaint cottage among the powerful ruins. They start humbly anew in great appreciation for the world around them, and this painting reveals a genuine nobility in that.

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