Cairn in Snow Caspar David Friedrich Buy Art Prints Now
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Tom Gurney BSc (Hons) is an art history expert with over 20 years experience
Published on June 19, 2020 / Updated on October 14, 2023
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Cairn in Snow painted by Caspar David Friedrich in 1807, is a landscape painting, which describes a pagan burial site set among 3 oak trees. The scene is placed next to Gutzkow town in Germany. The work of art has a haunted look, depicting barren trees during winter.

In ancient times, a group of trees symbolized initiation rituals and secrecy. They were considered untouchable. But the trees in "Cairn in snow" seem to have been abandoned and most of their branches have been chopped off. The painting describes a Romantic scene in nature.

The painting comprises a snapshot of a winter day, near Gutzkow town in Germany. Three stones are set one on top of the other in the centre of the painting. The largest stone sits on top of the two smaller ones, suggesting secrecy of a burial site. The three oak trees protect the site. Although they're sacred and cannot be harmed, they seem to have branches chopped off. The melancholic mood of the entire scene is amplified by one of the trees leaning backwards, as though surrendering to the disaster, which caused the destruction of the trees. The other two trees stand tall and try to protect the sacred burial ground.

The landscape comprises a chain of low mountains in the background. The dark and somber atmosphere amplifies the intensity of the painting. The fog doesn't allow the viewer to see what is behind the site of the burial. It's as if the painter stops time to contemplate on the significance of this site. The natural elements honour the impressive magnitude of the scene. The stones are the centre point of the painting and they protect the ancient secret and tradition. Even though dark forces have tried to uncover the secret, the mighty oaks stand tall and fight with all their powers. Nature is the focus of the painter's work. He transcends into a different world, where traditions, secrecy and rituals are respected.

The artist uses nature as an escape from superficial values. He's in search of meaning and ancient rituals, which can teach him more about the symbolism of life. The painting is a symbol of life endurance and immortality. The sacred burial site is placed amongst three massive oaks, which show signs of battle. The snow, which is symbolic for purity, is an allegory for the beauty of life. Nature, in its whole, protects the ancient traditions. Nature somehow works together with time to stop any dark forces from destroying the sacred site. The painter adds a Romantic note to the symbolism of the painting. The painting is displayed at the Galerie Neue Meister Museum.