Casper David Friedrich’s Woman at the Window (1822), is an image whose obscurity provokes puzzlement and wonder. Friedrich’s repeated decision to depict figures from behind leaves us speculating about their identity, their appearance, their feelings, and their intentions, just as the Song of Solomon leaves us with many questions about the identities of its two lovers.
When Friedrich’s lone figures are male, the landscapes they contemplate are often ominous or inhospitable (The Wanderer above the Mists, 1817–18). When the figures are female, the settings are frequently calm and hopeful (Woman before the Rising Sun, 1818–20). But almost always, as in this case, we are given only a little to go on. Friedrich’s artworks, like the mysterious Song, require us to use our imaginations, as we entertain various possibilities about their subjects.
Friedrich treated the window as a subject in itself, whether in representations of ruins, or when depicting his own studio window in Dresden. The open window, with its view to a world beyond, came to be a common theme in the German Romantic movement, a metaphor for ideas of escape, adventure, longing, and even loneliness, where the vision of a brighter life lay beyond one’s reach.
The woman of the Song expresses desire and hope: ‘I will seek him whom my soul loves’ (3:2). She also sounds a Friedrich-like note of loneliness and longing: ‘I sought him, but found him not’.
Friedrich’s model was the artist’s wife, Caroline. She has shifted her weight to one leg, resting her elbow on the sill, suggesting that she has stood for a long time. Patiently, quietly she waits, with a patience that can recall that of the Song’s Rose of Sharon (2:1). And what does she wait for, or more to the point, whom does she wait for?
We can only speculate. But perhaps she waits for her lover, longing for his return, so she might take him into the ‘chamber of her who conceived me’ (3:4).
3Upon my bed by night
I sought him whom my soul loves;
I sought him, but found him not;
I called him, but he gave no answer.
2“I will rise now and go about the city,
in the streets and in the squares;
I will seek him whom my soul loves.”
I sought him, but found him not.
3The watchmen found me,
as they went about in the city.
“Have you seen him whom my soul loves?”
4Scarcely had I passed them,
when I found him whom my soul loves.
I held him, and would not let him go
until I had brought him into my mother’s house,
and into the chamber of her that conceived me.
5I adjure you, O daughters of Jerusalem,
by the gazelles or the hinds of the field,
that you stir not up nor awaken love
until it please.
6What is that coming up from the wilderness,
like a column of smoke,
perfumed with myrrh and frankincense,
with all the fragrant powders of the merchant?
7Behold, it is the litter of Solomon!
About it are sixty mighty men
of the mighty men of Israel,
8all girt with swords
and expert in war,
each with his sword at his thigh,
against alarms by night.
9King Solomon made himself a palanquin
from the wood of Lebanon.
10He made its posts of silver,
its back of gold, its seat of purple;
it was lovingly wrought within
by the daughters of Jerusalem.
11Go forth, O daughters of Zion,
and behold King Solomon,
with the crown with which his mother crowned him
on the day of his wedding,
on the day of the gladness of his heart.