Garden roses

The romantic vision and the abandonment of the sacred in the 20th century west. More snippets from the diary.

Wednesday 30th January 2013

The German painter Friedrich

Today I was reading about the German painter Casper David Friedrich (1774-1840). He was certainly different and his paintings are deliberately full of romantic and spiritual vision. He belonged to the Dresden Romantics who rejected the classical age as being over rational and instead looked to the irrational and mystical aspects of nature and experience. Friedrich was influenced by the poet Kosegarten who regarded nature as ‘Christ’s bible’. Friedrich’s landscapes are indeed allegories of the inner life where the sea, the ships, the trees and even the rocks are given spiritual meanings. ‘The divine is everywhere,’ said Friedrich, ‘even in a grain of sand.’

Monday 4th February 2013

We had a few days in Inverness. Margaret saw the surgeon. The news for her was good; she doesn’t need to have any more chemotherapy and he seemed pleased with her progress.

Saturday 2nd March 2013

The Scream (1893)

I’ve been looking at the life and work of Edvard Munch (1863-1944) the Norwegian painter, probably best known for his painting The Scream (1893). Of all the artists I’ve looked at so far, he probably best represents the bohemian spirit of the 20th century. Until his nervous breakdown in 1908, he depicted the inner emotions with tremendous power. Often these show his own obsessions with death, sex and love. After his breakdown his work was much less introspective.

The abandonment of the sacred

For me his paintings graphically represent the existential angst of modern man. His paintings indeed give a bleak and sometimes painful vision of what it means to live without hope and without God in the world. The lithograph Madonna (1895-1902) is a prime example of how the sacred has been transformed into something entirely profane. The image of the woman is highly sexual and yet strongly represents death. The holy child has become an evil looking foetus. It is indeed an image which should send a shiver through our soul, a prophecy of what the soul of the century, at least in Europe, would become.

Munch’s The Dance of Life

I wrote a poem about Munch’s painting The Dance of Life (1899-1900). This shows three women at different stages of the life of the soul. The colours of their dresses are strongly symbolic. The first woman in white represents innocence and is eagerly approaching the dance. The middle woman in a deep red dress represents desire and sexual passion while the woman in black on the right looks on in loneliness and despair. The moon in the Friedrich painting represents Christ, here it merely represents fertility and the mystery of sex.