The 1819 Dresden Conspiracy (Travels in revolutionary Mitteleuropa, from the Rhine to the Danube/2)

I went for the first time to Germany last month with a specific purpose: To walk in the footsteps of revolutionary friends in Dresden, such as the comrades in this painting.

“Two Men Contemplating the Moon” by Caspar David Friedrich (1774-1840), who lived in Dresden from 1798 until his death, discloses the horizon of my blog:  Two close friends, who are radical intellectuals, pause in their evening walk, listening to the music of the spheres, sharing a mood of attunement, and making common plans.  This is the framework of everything I have been writing here for five years.

Meeting this small painting by the greatest German Romantic painter in the special Friedrich room of the Galerie Neue Meister in the Albertinum was an overwhelming experience as I realized how much it resonates with the idea of the comrade. The two friends have stopped, with one resting on the other’s shoulder, but a close look at the brushwork and shine reveals that they are restless in their plotting.  Their contemplation radiates with the intensity of an attunement that is not passive but active in that it generates political engagement (and theatricality), not absorption.*

Thirty years after this transcendent work was made, the plans of the two conspiring friends were put into action as revolutionaries walked together in the barricades of the May 1849 Dresden Uprising.  Following with Pantelis Polychronidis the footsteps of another pair of revolutionary friends, Richard Wagner and Gottfried Semper, in the barricades built by the latter is also the reason why I came to Germany.

I intend to trace a certain Central European tradition of revolt.

* For my header image I use the 1830 version, held at the Metropolitan Museum, while my photos in this post show the Dresden first version from 1819-20.

November 19, 2018

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