Many things begin with a longing. We long for a fresh start, for things of the past and for perfection. Usually, we long for something unattainable. Longing is a feeling that strives for change. Also Caspar David Friedrich’s wanderer is a seeker: as a lone figure standing on a rock with his back to the viewer, he looks out on a landscape of rugged mountain peaks jutting out from drifting wafts of fog. He is standing right where we would stand. Where exactly his gaze goes, we don’t know. One rarely sees a single figure depicted so large – from behind. It therefore is hardly surprising that so many people can put themselves in his shoes and empathize with him. Since we don’t know who he is, what he looks like or what he is thinking, he serves as an ideal projection figure. Having climbed to the summit, he seems to have reached his goal. And yet there is this immense, inaccessible vastness unfolding in front of him. The untouched and unattained has fascinated people ever since and continues to do so. That longing nonetheless remains a very individual feeling makes the iconic work all the more striking – we all see something different. What Friedrich describes is more a state of mind: here I am, alone, looking at an uncertain future.

Jan Steinke (research assistant)