New Art Books: “Caspar David Friedrich – Nature And The Self” (Yale)

Caspar David Friedrich Nature and the Self Nina Amstutz February 2020In this revelatory book, Nina Amstutz combines fresh visual analysis with broad interdisciplinary research to investigate the intersection of landscape painting, self-exploration, and the life sciences in Friedrich’s mature work. Drawing connections between the artist’s anthropomorphic landscape forms and contemporary discussions of biology, anatomy, morphology, death, and decomposition, Amstutz brings Friedrich’s work into the larger discourse surrounding art, nature, and life in the 19th century.

Best known for his atmospheric landscapes featuring contemplative figures silhouetted against night skies and morning mists, Caspar David Friedrich (1774–1840) came of age alongside a German Romantic philosophical movement that saw nature as an organic and interconnected whole. The naturalists in his circle believed that observations about the animal, vegetable, and mineral kingdoms could lead to conclusions about human life. Many of Friedrich’s often-overlooked later paintings reflect his engagement with these philosophical ideas through a focus on isolated shrubs, trees, and rocks. Others revisit earlier compositions or iconographic motifs but subtly metamorphose the previously distinct human figures into the natural landscape.

Nina Amstutz is assistant professor in the history of art and architecture at the University of Oregon.

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