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Romanticism and Philipp Otto Runge

Philipp Otto Runge was also one of the Romantic painters who, particularly in his natural landscape and religious paintings, created a personal religious system through which he hoped to bring about a more spiritual era. Runge tried to rediscover the religious basis of art - religious not in a clerical sense, but through a personal concept of the unity of God and the cosmos.

The main source of information on Runge is to be found in his Hinterlassene Schriften (Posthumous writings, vols I and II) which appeared in 1965. His writings are eloquent and informative biographical documents and can be compared to Delacroix's Journal and Van Gogh's Letters. They reflect the thinking round about 1800 and trace logically and clearly Runge's artistic development from the first conception of an idea to its final resolution. Despite his Protestant background, Runge's work was devoid of dogmatism and, like Friedrich's, was essentially pantheistic in nature. He saw the entire cosmos as an indivisible creation and attempted to clarify its relationship with the totality of nature. His work is characterised by quiet dissociation and objectivity and by penetrating natural observation. In his thinking, Runge was influenced by Kosegarten and other poets who had been responsible for the spread in Pomerania of the literature of the Sturm und Drang and the legends of Ossian.

To the poet and writer, Ludwig Tieck, Runge's Times were the most convincing expression of the so-called new art, because to him they illustrated clearly the interrelationship between mathematics, music, colour and line. While Friedrich, in a more revolutionary manner, changed landscape painting through his new spatial structures and the adaptation of his symbolism to these structures, Runge's art was a more deliberate process in which the picture itself becomes a symbol. The memory of certain sensations of the soul made Runge discover objects that best suited these feelings, feelings which he then imbued with his own symbolism. For Friedrich, however, the picture itself was not a symbol, but a means by which elements from nature were filled with symbols and meanings. The more Friedrich emphasised an object in a painting, the more this heightened its symbolic significance. Careful investigation and contemplation of natural phenomena came first; from this his "inner eye" derived the concept.

Runge's paintings are, like those of Friedrich, not spontaneous representations of what is seen. In his work, human experience and knowledge of nature are combined. The concept comes first - everything else is subordinated to this.

Although Friedrich and Runge have the same basic ideas, Runge's approach to landscape painting was more abstract and consistent than Friedrich's. His landscapes are not reproductions of rivers, mountains and trees. It is in the forces of nature and nature's organic growth that Runge found analogies to those in man. Human emotions and experiences are recognised in the appearances of nature. To Runge, it is only through the human spirit that the landscape is developed, and it is only through human emotions that it gains meaning. He believed that through the contemplation and investigation of nature there
was a possibility of a return to man's pure and paradisal origins. His is an entirely new art - not a renewal of landscape painting. One can no longer speak of "landscapes" in the traditional sense, but rather of "Nature paintings".

We may say that Runge turned away from the historical and mythological towards an allegorical representation of his own feelings and experiences:

... We are no longer Greeks, we can no longer quite feel the whole when we see their
perfect works, and even less, can we produce such works. Why then attempt to produce
something mediocre? ... People hunt for subjects, as though there was art in it, or as
though they had nothing alive in themselves. Does something like that have to come
from the outside? Did not all artists who have created a beautiful art work, have a
feeling first? Did they not choose a subject that suited their feeling ... ? .

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