Major Depression and Stroke in Caspar David FriedrichDahlenburg B. · Spitzer C.
aDepartment of Art History, Caspar-David-Friedrich Institute for Art, Ernst-Moritz-Arndt-University, Greifswald; b Department of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy, Ernst-Moritz-Arndt-University, Greifswald, Germany
Caspar David Friedrich, nowadays recognized as the most important German Romantic painter, stands out against his contemporary artists by the radical dramaturgy and the ‘disturbing spiritualism’ of his paintings. Being a loner, he embodies melancholy not only in his works, but also as an artist. Art scientists have related to losses in early childhood and depressive conditions for the interpretation of his work without examining in depths the specific features of his disease and their impact on the artistic performance and works. Having applied diagnostic criteria for psychiatric disorders to his letters and publications, to statements of his contemporaries and to his art we propose that he had suffered from a recurrent major depression before he was struck by a stroke when he was 61 years of age. Depressive episodes occurred in 1799, between 1803 and 1805, around 1813/14, again 1816 and between 1824 and 1826. They were associated with diminished or altered creative powers as can be derived by the chosen techniques and motives. In 1835, a subcortical infarction led to a right-sided paralysis causing severe difficulties for the painting in oils. As a consequence, Friedrich only produced one large-scale oil painting which has been characterized as his ‘artistic testament’. Rather, he returned to the less strenuous and demanding sepias and water colors. Most probably, he also suffered a poststroke depression as reported by contemporaries. This is also illustrated by an accumulation of death symbols in his late work, which has been neglected by the Friedrich research.
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