OIL PAINTING: The Monk by the Sea, 1808-1810
The Monk by the Sea is undoubtedly a masterpiece in Friedrich's oeuvre and the boldest picture within German Romanticism as a whole. The theme: the tiny figure of a man set against a natural landscape divided into three horizontal zones of colour. Its composition breaks with all traditions. There is no longer any perspective depth whatsoever. At the bottom of the picture, the whitish sand dunes making up the narrow strip of shoreline rise at an obtuse angle towards the left. At their apex, the tiny figure of a man robed in black in the Monk by the Sea is visible from behind - the only vertical in the painting. There is no other staffage; even the two sailing boats which Friedrich had originally envisaged on either side of the man he subsequently painted over. The oppressively dark zone of the sea meets an extremely low horizon. Some five-sixths of the painting is given over to the diffuse structure of the cloudy sky. Because all lines lead out of the picture, infinity becomes the true subject of the painting. In the awareness of his smallness, the monk, in whose place the viewer is meant to imagine himself, reflects upon the power of the universe.