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The Cover
November 3, 2004

A Walk at Dusk

Author Affiliations

The Cover Section Editor: M. Therese Southgate, MD, Senior Contributing Editor.

JAMA. 2004;292(17):2053. doi:10.1001/jama.292.17.2053

Begun as a literary movement toward the end of the 18th century, by the early years of the 19th century the great Romantic movement had crossed interart boundaries and had transformed the visual arts as well, especially that of landscape painting. Landscape painting had been granted “official permission” to exist as an independent category of the visual arts. Heretofore it had served as little more than background accompaniment, its purpose being to provide a decorative context for the grand subjects of mythology and history painting or to humanize the now-distant scripture scenes. Even so, strict conditions were imposed on the newcomer: a landscape painting, in addition to meeting the basic criteria of craftsmanship, had to be able to prompt the viewer’s mind and heart to a consideration of higher things: the divine plan of Nature, for example, or one’s insignificant role in the grand scheme, or, best, to the transience of all life, not only the falling leaf but one’s own body as well. Especially popular—among the literary as well as among the visual artists—were meditations on death. Robert Browning’s Prospice (“to feel the fog in my throat, / The mist in my face,”) is a good example of the literary genre. (Once known by heart by every schoolchild of a certain age, Prospice is now probably familiar to scarcely anyone.) On the visual side, A Walk at Dusk (cover) painted by the German Romantic Caspar-David Friedrich (1774-1840) sometime during the early 1830s might be considered kin to Browning’s poem.

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