Caspar David Friedrich Nature and the Self Nina Amstutz

Publication date:
25 Feb 2020
Yale University Press
280 pages: 254 x 203mm
82 color + 36 b-w illus.
Sales territories:

A revelatory look at how the mature work of Caspar David Friedrich engaged with concurrent developments in natural science and philosophy

Best known for his atmospheric landscapes featuring contemplative figures silhouetted against night skies and morning mists, Caspar David Friedrich (1774–1840) came of age alongside a German Romantic philosophical movement that saw nature as an organic and interconnected whole. The naturalists in his circle believed that observations about the animal, vegetable, and mineral kingdoms could lead to conclusions about human life. Many of Friedrich’s often-overlooked later paintings reflect his engagement with these philosophical ideas through a focus on isolated shrubs, trees, and rocks. Others revisit earlier compositions or iconographic motifs but subtly metamorphose the previously distinct human figures into the natural landscape.
In this revelatory book, Nina Amstutz combines fresh visual analysis with broad interdisciplinary research to investigate the intersection of landscape painting, self-exploration, and the life sciences in Friedrich’s mature work. Drawing connections between the artist’s anthropomorphic landscape forms and contemporary discussions of biology, anatomy, morphology, death, and decomposition, Amstutz brings Friedrich’s work into the larger discourse surrounding art, nature, and life in the 19th century.

Nina Amstutz is assistant professor in the history of art and architecture at the University of Oregon.

 “A triumph of bookmaking.”—Christoph Irmscher, Wall Street Journal

“In a detailed study of exemplary works by Friedrich and on the basis of an impressive knowledge of relevant natural-philosophical literature, Amstutz elaborates [her] thesis in her pleasantly readable and beautifully designed book. The lasting value of this monograph lies in the fact that it pursues the hypothesis of a natural-philosophical interpretation of Friedrich's works for the first time with consistency.”—Johannes Grave, Art Newspaper

“A work of intellectual depth and subtlety, it models how art history can engage more creatively and expansively with scientific and philosophical ideas about the natural world. Amstutz enjoins us, like Friedrich, to seek out unexpected resemblances.”—Stephanie O’Rourke, Art History

Winner of the 2019 Novalis Prize for innovative research on European Romanticism in any field, sponsored by Novalis Gesellschaft

“In beautiful and, at times, poetic prose, Nina Amstutz masterfully explores Friedrich’s late work through the lens of German Romantic nature philosophy and the life sciences. Her revisionary analysis establishes a new place of central importance for these paintings.”—Marsha Morton, author of Max Klinger and Wilhelmine Culture: On the Threshold of German Modernism

“Amstutz persuades the reader that Friedrich’s paintings explore the mutual constitution of self and nature, of body and earth; that they do via Romantic philosophy’s blend of metaphysical and empirical inquiry.”—Alexander Nemerov, Stanford University