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Work Allegory of Profane Music

Department of Prints and Drawings: 19th century

Allégorie de la musique profane

Musée du Louvre, dist. RMN-Grand Palais - Photo M. Beck-Coppola

Prints and Drawings
19th century

Grollemund Hélène

Between August 1826 and April 1827, Friedrich was visited in Dresden by the poet Wassilij Andrejewitsch Shukowski. Over the following years, their conversations gave rise to a project for paintings on transparent paper; these were to be shown to musical accompaniment, by moonlight, and lit by a candle set behind a glass ball filled with water or white wine. The drawings are the sole surviving evidence of the venture.

From the profane to the sacred

The project was for musical allegories illustrating the correspondences between music and painting, created for the Grand Duchess Alexandra Fyodorovna and dedicated to the young tsarevich Alexander. According to Friedrich, they would "have a stirring effect on a young child's heart." The first composition, symbolizing profane music, is described by the artist in a letter dated February 9, 1830: "A harp leans against the Gothic window, with two young girls singing and playing mandolins and guitars on each side, as if waiting for the harpist. The view from the window is broken by a wooded rise, over which shines a bright full moon." Three other compositions were executed, but have been lost. Celestial Music is known via a tracing held in the Hamburg Museum and another, set in a forest, is a meditation on time and death. The tracing of Sacred Music is in the Städtische Kunstsammlung in Chemnitz.

Artistic complementarity

In its elevation of landscape to the rank of history painting, this cycle of transparent works, while not "religious painting" in the strict sense, attains a religious character with its use of light and sound. It is also an eloquent approach to the question of the boundaries between painting and music, a major component of the aesthetic revival in Germany in the first third of the 19th century. The musical accompaniment complements the spiritual elevation induced by the lighting. In this sense Friedrich's project is very much linked to the Romantic imagination, but it declares its independence by insisting on the need to work with a musician: at the turn of the century, the Schlegels, Novalis, Tieck, and the painter Philipp Otto Runge had been advocating the unity of the arts, even suggesting the possibility of "musical" painting.

Symbolism and the elevation of the soul

The technique used by Friedrich gives a glimpse of the diorama, invented by Daguerre in 1823. However, despite the use of real light, the marked symbolism of the scenes and the major part played by music emphasize a truly artistic dimension as opposed to the mere illusionism of the diorama. The formal links between the strings of the harp and the architecture lead to a conception of the church as a visual embodiment of the sound of the instrument. Friedrich is also engaged in a metaphysical exploration of nature as symbolic form: the landscape invades the ruin, which is itself an expression of the ephemeral character of life. The artist was seeking "a work of art that would elevate the soul, and a religious impetus, even if these are not the sole intentions behind it."


F. Viatte, "Un dessin de Caspar David Friedrich (1774-1840) au musée du Louvre: Allégorie de la musique profane", in Revue du Louvre, no. 3, 1999, pp. 13-15
J. Ramos, "A propos de l'acquisition récente de l'Allégorie de la musique profane: un cycle de transparents avec accompagnement musical de Caspar David Friedrich", in Revue du Louvre, no. 4, 2000, pp. 62-69
J. Ramos, in L'invention du sentiment, Exhibition catalogue, Paris, Musée de la Musique, 2002, no. 77
H. Börsch-Supan, K.W. Jähnig, Caspar David Friedrich: Gemälde, Druckgraphik und bildmässige Zeichnungen, 1973, no. 435

Technical description

  • Caspar David Friedrich (Greifswald, 1774-Dresden, 1840)

    Allegory of Profane Music

    c. 1826/27-30

  • Black chalk on dark pink paper

    H. 73.5 cm; W. 52.5 cm

  • Zurich, Arturo Cuellar Gallery; bought with the assistance of Dr. Willem J.R. Dreesmann, 1999

    RF 51893

  • Prints and Drawings

    Due to their fragility, works on paper are not on permanent display in the museum.

Practical information

In line with the measures taken by the government to prevent the spread of COVID-19, the Musée du Louvre and Musée National Eugène Delacroix are closed up until Tuesday December 1, 2020.
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