Woman at the Window by Caspar David Friedrich

Caspar David Friedrich

Woman at the Window, 1822, Oil on canvas, 44 x 37 cm, Nationalgalerie, Staatliche Museen, Berlin, AI 918, bpk Bildagentur / Nationalgalerie, Staatliche Museen, Berlin, Germany / Joerg P. Anders / Art Resource, NY

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‘I Sought him whom my Soul Loves’

Individual Commentary
Commentary by
John Handley

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).