Caspar David Friedrich was a German painter who lived in the XIXth century and who is considered one of the most important Romantic artists. His paintings are known for being charged with codes and allegories with religious allegories.
This is also the case in the painting titled “Mountain Landscape with Rainbow”, “Gebirgslandschaft mit Regenbogen” in original, which Friedrich painted in 1809-1810. In this work, Caspar David Friedrich presents us with an image filled with symbols and significations.
“Mountain Landscape with Rainbow”, which is currently on display at the Folkwang museum in Essen, conveys a sensibility typical for Caspar David Friedrich. On a descriptive level, the painting presents a few mountains under a very dark sky, cut by a very bright rainbow in the upper half of the painting and, in the lower half, a traveler who is contemplating the landscape in awe.
The traveler, lit by twilight is in strong contrast with the nature depicted in the painting, which is gaudy and dark.
The painting can be seen as having three juxtaposing layers. These layers can each be interpreted as symbols, and are connected to each other. The first layer is the space where the man sits. The secondary layer is the layer where the trees and mountains are placed. These can be interpreted as being the challenges one man needs to go through in life. The reason behind this interpretation lies in the geometry of the painting. The trees and mountains are all triangles, both large and small – a geometric shape that can stand for the ladders one needs to climb. Also, their dark colors recommend them as being something mysterious and unknown, but also as something dangerous. The chromatic of the landscape comes in stark contrast with the man, thus conveying the message that man is always faced with the challenges his environment brings. However, the relaxed pose of the man, who, while in awe, seems to be quite calm, shows that man can take on life, in the right conditions, which brings us to the third level. The third layer is the rainbow. The fine line that crosses the frame from one end to the other can be regarded as a state of continuity and order, both of which are characteristics of divinity.
Thus, Friedrich conveys the message that man can go through the challenges of life if lit by the hope of divinity. As the mysteries of life unfold before his very eyes in the shape of deep, dark and heavy clouds, the light of divinity is what balances them out, which ensures the continuity of the life of humans.
The rainbow usually represents the everlasting covenant between divinity and humans, but in this case, while that could still apply, we can see a white rainbow and not one composed of seven colors. This could suggest a presence of the Good, rather than a connection between man and his creator.
Caspar David Friedrich’s works are meant to convey memories of thought, emotions and states that words fail to describe.
While this painting can have many interpretations, one can be considered as the ultimate reading of this work. The conclusion is quite simple. Man lies between the darkness ahead and the light above and, whether he chooses to stand in the light that falls down over him is ultimately his choice.