He began to paint in oils in 1807; one of his first canvases, The Cross in the Mountains (1807?, Staatliche Kunstsamm-lungen, Dresden), is representative of his mature style. A bold break from traditional religious painting, this work is almost pure landscape; the figure of the crucified Christ, seen from behind and silhouetted against a mountain sunset, is almost lost in the natural setting. According to Friedrich's own writings, all the elements in the composition have symbolic meanings. The mountains are allegories of faith; the rays of the setting sun symbolize the end of the pre-Christian world; and the fir trees stand for hope. Friedrich's cold, acid colors, clear lighting, and sharp contours heighten the feeling of melancholy, isolation, and human powerlessness against the ominous forces of nature expressed in his paintings. As a faculty member of the Dresden Academy, Friedrich influenced later German romantic painters. Although his reputation declined after his death, 20th-century viewers are fascinated by his imagery.
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