Wolfgang Beltracchi, 2018
The Lorelei
Artistic voice: Caspar David Friedrich, ca. 1820, Dresden
Oil on canvas on board, 56 x 43.5 cm

»The wild and romantic banks of the Middle Rhine, lined with castles and ruins, a landscape between nature and history, have enticed poets and artists as a poetic utopia since the late eighteenth century. Thus, from a rock and dangerous currents, arose the legendary location of the Lorelei which sparked “Rhine Romanticism”. With the end of the Holy Roman Empire, the Rhine became a German river. Landscape, poetry and legend became the source of a transfigured German identity. The river retained its politically charged nature until the 20th century. When we look at the Rhine today, however, we regard it as a European river. We see it with different eyes and reflect on its romantic and nationalistic exaltation that is part of Germany’s past.«

Dr. Rainer Doetsch, Rhine Museum, Koblenz

The legend of the Lorelei, a beautiful witch who lures sailors to their deaths on the eponymous rock in the Rhine river, is a fabrication by Clemens Brentano from 1800. In the Napoleonic Wars, the banks of the Rhine became a highly political location. A German identity needed to be invented following the end of the Holy Roman Empire. Friedrich sought this identity in the landscape, by invoking the past and inward reflection, and painted motifs from the north, east and south of the German-speaking countries. The Lorelei rock is depicted here as a stronghold of German and romantic identity against the expansion of French rationalism. The French are forced to retreat back across the Rhine.