A dull, overcast day. Or is it evening? Or perhaps early morning? Is a storm brewing? This painting does not let on. And then there is that narrow strip of sand along the water. And a mysterious figure, a monk gazing into the distance.
The Monk By the Sea is one of the best-known German art works of all time and “the” painting of the German Renaissance. When it was being restored in 2015, infrared reflectography revealed a drawing underneath that shows how Friedrich originally planned the picture: two ships to the left and right of the monk, stakes with fishermen’s nets on the shore… Friedrich worked hard at this composition for two years before rejecting this classical arrangement and opting instead for a radical emptiness and the solitude of the monk.
The VR experience begins with personal notes by Caspar David Friedrich. He describes the setting for his painting in precise detail. Step by step, users find their bearings in the black, white and grey cartoon and meet the lone monk on the beach.
“In the front a barren, sandy shore, then the agitated sea. On the shore stands a monk deep in thought. Seagulls fly about him fearfully calling, as if seeking to warn him.”
In the painting, we can only see him from behind, but the viewer can walk around him and look him in the face. But the monk preserves his mystery. When the viewer turns away, the monk disappears, and the user is left alone on the shore.
“Your footprints are deep in the barren, sandy shore; but a silent wind blows over them and your trail vanishes.”
The yearning for contact with nature and mystical experience, so typical of the Romantic age, are part of the adventure: abstract colours and 3D sound enhance the emotional experience. In the face of the mighty elements, a human being is small and insignificant.
But a seagull catches the viewer’s attention: its flight path resembles a brushstroke and gradually it transforms the black and white drawing into the famous painting. When the work is finished, we hear Caspar David Friedrich’s thoughts again:
“Foolish human. Even should you presume to attempt from morning until falling midnight to fathom the undiscovered Beyond, you would not solve the riddle of the dark future.”
- Production - Gebrueder beetz
- Coproduction - ZDF, Camera Lucida Productions and Lucid Realities
- In partnership with High Road Productions, ARTE, Alte Nationalgalerie - Funded by Creative Europe – MEDIA Programme of the European Union, Medienboard Berlin-Brandenburg
- Picture - Berlin State Museums, Alte Nationalgalerie / Andres Kilger