Listening to Caspar David Friedrich: Woman Before the Rising Sun (Woman Before the Setting Sun)

Woman Before the Rising Son Caspar David Friedrich 1818 to 1820


Caspar David Friedrich’s Woman Before the Rising Sun, or as others have named it Woman Before the Setting Sun, is often described as a meditation on the benefits of communing with nature. In this painting Friedrich’s earlier works, overtly religious in theme, have been replaced by a metaphorical presence of God.

For many critics this painting contains a gentle element that marks a turning point in Friedrich’s artistic career. The woman, most probably his wife, is seen quietly stretching her arms in a way that resembles the rays of the early morning sun. Has she been caught in a moment of prayer? However if Friedrich intended the painting to capture the sun setting behind the hills it could equally symbolise the coming of death.

Viewing the painting from a completely agnostic point of view I see something apocalyptic in its scene though this interpretation could be the product of 21st century anxieties and popular culture imagery (it is hard to detach oneself from them). I see the woman as embracing the earth’s final moments, she has made peace with the inevitability of her own death, indeed she appears to welcome it. Does a better life await her?

And what do we hear when viewing this work? The wind, birds, a family in the background or perhaps farmers working in neighbouring fields?

I hear the escalating tension of a brutal and relentless force …

In my composition for the painting waves of sound intensify as the end draws closer. Cicadas stridulate rhythmically as if anticipating the impending catastrophe.

3 thoughts on “Listening to Caspar David Friedrich: Woman Before the Rising Sun (Woman Before the Setting Sun)

  1. Ominous and beautiful. I have always loved the sound of cicadas…they take me back to my childhood… but the underlying hum sets up a layer of expectancy that both attracts and unnerves. What is coming over those hills?


      1. No artist and no commentator can control how a piece speaks to the individual. It seems to me that the opportunity of each new day (or night) brings about danger and wonder. Every day is filled with endings and beginnings and things we will never experience again. We live at the edge of apocalypse all the time, but there are only a few moments that we perceive it. I think she is having one of those moments.


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