by Alexandra Tuschka
A morning landscape and a shepherd barely recognizable leaning against an imposing tree. Sheep, which at first glance look like bushes, graze in the pasture in the background. The view into the wide landscape is stopped by a large and picture-dominating oak tree in the center. At the foot of the tree is a small lake - possibly the reason for the shepherd's rest.
The direct comparison of man and nature is lost here. Dwarfed and completely insignificant his existence seems in comparison to the powerful oak. Other human life can be glimpsed in the background, as roofs and silhouettes of houses can be seen - but their existence seems to be only temporary compared to nature. The oak tree has been considered indestructible since ancient times thanks to its solid wood. It stands as a symbol of strength and vitality.
This idyllic willow landscape was created by Friedrich as a counterpart to another painting, which shows a moonrise by the sea. Together, both paintings are to be understood as a time-of-day cylce. But also the lonely oak itself symbolizes the constant cycle of nature. At the lower part of the trunk we find young vines, while the trunk tapers towards the top and carries only dead branches in the tree crown.
Caspar David Friedrich - The Lonely Tree
Oil on canvas, 1822, 55 x 71 cm, Old National Gallery in Berlin