Winter Gothic

At some point, while looking for something else most likely, I found Erasure’s video of “Gaudete.” I started watching, blinked, and said, “It’s Caspar David Friedrich!” Because everyone borrows imagery from him when they want to do “ancient church in snow at night mildly creepy but maybe not” settings.

Gothic? Check, check. Eerie but not truly scary? Probably check. Winter? Check! Article about CDF:

This one tells a story:


Not all of C.D.F.’s paintings are “moody, brooding, cold,” but some of the most famous are, or at least the most often reproduced and borrowed from.

“Oaks in the Snow with Domlan.” A dolman is a prehistoric marker or burial mound, common (formerly) in parts of the northern German-speaking lands.

So, the video that borrows so heavily from C. D. F and a few others? Note that the video has some creepy and possibly sacrilegious elements, notable the burning candle.

The hard contrasts of dark, bare trees and stones against white snow have been noted by artists and poets for a very long time. Northern Europe tends to be misty and dark this time of year, especially the far northern areas where C. D. F. visited. The sun rises around eight-thirty and sets around three-thirty. That is, if you can see the sun for the heavy clouds. When I was in Vienna over Christmas, heavy skies, snow, and then hard cold reminded everyone that yes, winter had arrived. It was one of the few times that I ate everything in sight and lost weight, because I was converting so much of the snacks and treats into heat. The importance of light, and the turning of the year, was firmly reinforced on that trip. The true cold of winter usually arrives a little later than December, but not always.

One thing I like about so many of C. D. F.’s paintings is that they catch the mystery of things. Christmas and Advent are often too shiny, up-front, and bright for my taste. There’s a Mystery in the familiar story, a hushed and intent waiting for . . . something. Something wonderful, but something also deep and more than a little scary. “He is good, but he’s not safe,” as C. S. Lewis describes Aslan. “Gaudete” calls us to rejoice, but in a minor key, often arranged with slightly discordant harmonies. The turning of the year, the Winter Solstice, brings light but also deeper cold in many places. There’s a mystery, something hidden in the night, in the winter mist and clouds.


6 thoughts on “Winter Gothic

  1. Interesting post, and yes the second one is even more eerie, considering the two crutches lying in the snow…

  2. Foreground shrine juxtaposed against the graff’s castle lurking in cloud and shadow. Quite a lot to see and consider.

    Come in for fiction snippets, leave with reading, geology, and history assignments. I wish school had been like this.

    • That’s supposed to be a church in the distance. It’s clearer in the original painting. I got to see a number of his better-known works at a traveling exhibit in . . . Gads, it’s been so long I don’t remember. Graz, perhaps? We were at the museum to see a display of Scythian gold, and I strayed into the C. D. F. show as well. The tourist-herder wasn’t exactly pleased, but didn’t fuss too much.

      • I *think* I see it at magnified full size, with some crosses just about visible.

        Great progression:
        Who made the lame walk;
        His humble shrine;
        His great church;
        His Glory to come?

        I’ve done the same for good Art. Annoyed a docent who wanted to wax about their modern display, by pointedly asking about their Hudson River School works – which included Cole’s 1822 work which started the movement. All but sniffed “Well!” at me.

        There are times we’d all like to loom darkly, like Andre Le Strang.

Comments are closed.