Dictionary of Art and Artists


that Changed the World


  Lascaux Caves Manesse illuminated Massys Callot Friedrich Picasso
  Tutankhamen's tomb Lorenzetti Grunewald Rembrandt Constable Matisse
  Europa and Minotaur Karlstein Castle Baldung Claude Lorrain Delacroix Marc
  Banquet Tomb Limbourg brothers Altdorfer Velazquez Turner Kandinsky
  Pompeii Van Eyck Cranach Vermeer Ingres Monet
  Birth of Christianity Della Francesca Holbein Rigaud Manet Chirico
  Hagia Sophia Uccello Titian Watteau Burne-Jones Modigliani
  Book of Kells Mantegna Bruegel Canaletto Seurat Chagall
  St Benedict Botticelli Vicentino Boucher Van Gogh Kahlo
  Bayeux Tapestry Anonymous Arcimboldo Fragonard Toulouse-Lautrec Dali
  Donizo manuscript Durer El Greco Gainsborough Munch Ernst
  Liber Scivias Bosch Theodore de Bry John Trumbull Cezanne Hopper
  Carmina Burana Da Vinci Caravaggio David Gauguin Bacon
  Falcon Book Michelangelo Rubens Gros Degas Warhol
  Giotto Raphael Brouwer Goya Klimt  

From Lascaux to Warhol

Supreme art is a traditional statement of certain heroic and religious truth,
passed on from age to age, modified by individual genius,
but never abandoned.

William Butler Yeats




The Force of Nature and the Power in a Painting

On the hubris of humankind



"What have we hit?" asked Captain Smith. "An iceberg, Sir," replied first officer Murdoch. "We steered hard to starboard and reversed the engines full speed. But we were already too close. I wanted to go around the iceberg. But it was already too late."

After the statement made by the second officer of the Titanic, Charles Herbert Lightoller,
before a subcommittee of the US Senate in April 1912



The news hit the world like a blow: "Titanic sinks four hours after collision with iceberg; 1,250 presumed dead." Thus read the New York Times headline of 16 April 1912. Only twenty-four hours before, an unprecedented tragedy had been enacted 400 nautical miles off Newfoundland in the Atlantic. More than hall the ship's passengers had died.

Not only had a stunningly elegant ship gone down; with her sank the myth of modern times. Industrial man had believed it could dupe nature with technology: the glittering new Titanic, on her maiden voyage from Southampton to New York, was regarded as a

marvel of engineering and as "unsinkable". Yet she fell victim to the vagaries of nature like so many expeditionary vessels that had sailed into perilous waters a century before.

In Caspar David Friedrich's The Polar Sea, the capsized ship caught in the ice may be the "Griper", which took part in expeditions to the North Pole that made the headlines in 1819—20 and 1824. British Polar explorer Sir William Edward Parry had become embroiled in a very dangerous situation whilst seeking the Northwest Passage. Caspar David Friedrich may well have been inspired by newspaper reports about Parry as well as by heavy ice floes on the Elbe in the winter of 1820—21.

The painting has occasionally been interpreted as having a religious meaning: the intransience of human life before divine eternity. There are also political interpretations: resignation in the face of the fruitless German wars of independence. And yet The Polar Sea remains in the first instance a symbol of the terrors of the icy wastes of the Polar regions - and of human presumption, which no longer stands in awe of nature.


Caspar David Friedrich
The Polar Sea


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