Caspar David Friedrich (1774-1840)
The Wanderer above the Sea of Fog (1818) painted by Caspar David Friedrich depicts a solitary male figure gazing out over a sea of fog. The painting invokes contradictory “feelings” for the man who, in one respect, has reached a natural frontier of evolutionary growth that very few human beings experience; yet at the same time is rather insignificant within the landscape depicted.
In the East it is more common especially among the upper caste Hindus in India, for example, to find support for transcending the material world by withdrawing from society at the end of life. The Hindu worldview supports ending one’s life with the simplicity, silence and solitude of contemplation. In this painting, Friedrich seems to have this insight, that is to say, “feeling” that the end of life has this wonderful opportunity for the profound freedom found in the present moment.
At this time in history the separate German states were working to dismantle the feudal structure, looking forward to a unified Germany which Bismarck was able to facilitate in 1870. “With this in mind, it is immediately evident that the wanderer has reached the utmost point of the material world and now, rising above its limitations, is enjoying a new sense of liberty that goes beyond material considerations and is accessible only to the spirit and the mind.”[i]
In Friedrich’s Chalk Cliffs on Rügen (1818), we see a figure similar to that in Wanderer peering into a world beyond the limits of time and space. The ships could be seen as symbols of the Point of Power Practice in Simple Reality, as vehicles that can transport us beyond the confines of P-B. “The figures are situated on the very brink of an abyss bordering two very different forms of existence. The inaccessible chalk cliffs elucidate the transition from the physical world in which the wanderers are located and the great beyond which is accessible only to the eyes and mind—a boundary not everyone is willing to cross, and one that divides opinions.”[ii]
In The Lone Tree (1822) we have what could be a symbol of Buddha’s First Noble Truth—life is suffering. “[The] weathered oak is an entity with which the viewer can identify as a metaphor of the human being marked by the rigors and hardships of life.”[iii]
Friedrich was definitely headed in the direction of P-A.
[i] Walther, Ingo F. [ed.]. Masterpieces of Western Art. Hong Kong: Taschen. 1996, page 448.
Find a much more in-depth discussion in books by Roy Charles Henry.