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A Self-Portrait as Landscape Painter: Caspar David Friedrich and Phrenology

  • Nina Amstutz


A Self-Portrait as Landscape Painter: Caspar David Friedrich and Phrenology

The article explores a precocious moment of interest in how the brain mediates aesthetic perception. Around 1810, Caspar David Friedrich drew himself with several features that deviate from his earlier self-portraits, including two bumps between the brows at the root of the nose. These cranial protuberances were associated with a cognitive faculty that the phrenologist Franz Joseph Gall insisted is common among landscape painters: Ortssinn, characterized by a heightened ability to remember places and to measure distance and perspective. I argue that Friedrich’s drawing is a self-portrait as landscape painter, where the signifiers of identity are no longer conventional artistic or sartorial attributes but rather the contours of the cranium and, by implication, the fabric of the artist’s mind.


I would like to thank Mark A. Cheetham, Alison Syme, Charlotte Klonk, and the anonymous reviewer for their generous feedback, in addition to the audiences at Yale University, the Museum of Fine Arts in Ghent, and the Universities Art Association of Canada conference, where I presented various versions of this essay.

  1. Photo Credits: 1 National Museums Liverpool. – 2 The Art Archive at Art Resource, NY. – 3, 5 bpk, Berlin/Kupferstichkabinett, Berlin/Joerg P. Anders/Art Resource, NY. – 4 bpk, Berlin/Statens Museum for Kunst, Copenhagen/Art Resource, NY. – 6 bpk, Berlin/Nationalgalerie, Staatliche Museen, Berlin/Reinhard Saczewski/Art Resource, NY. – 7 Johann Kaspar Lavater, Physiognomische Fragmente zur Beförderung der Menschenkenntnis und Menschenliebe, vol. 3, Zurich 1969, 177. – 8, 9 Wellcome Images. – 10 bpk, Berlin/Nationalgalerie, Staatliche Museen, Berlin/Bernd Kuhnert/Art Resource, NY. – 11 Tate, London/Art Resource, NY. – 12 bpk, Berlin/Hamburger Kunsthalle/Elke Walford/Art Resource, NY.

Published Online: 2016-04-01
Published in Print: 2016-04-01

© 2016 Nina Amstutz, published by De Gruyter

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