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 In this painting Friedrich’s earlier works, overtly religious in theme, have been replaced by a metaphorical presence of God.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.