Venice, the year 2000

An exhibition entitled COSMOS 

L’arte alla scoperta dell’ìnfinito

The students we are accompanying have gone on to discover Venice on their own. As we wander on, just my friend and me, we discover an exhibition in Palazzo Grassi that looks interesting. What I remember most today, 23 years later, is a small painting that was also used on the poster. It was by an artist I knew nothing about, but the painting intrigued me. It was small and quite unlike most of the more scientific illustrations in the exhibit, which left me feeling the chill of infinity.

Caspar David Friedrich. A German Romantic painter. I was drawn to his two figures, to the atmospheric setting. To the silence which enveloped them. I looked up the artist on the web and his paintings always contained figures either alone or perhaps in company, in landscapes or forests, with a ruined abbey or gnarled aged trees, where sounds might be echoing or absorbed by the snow. Where even if there were two figures, one felt their solitary isolation. 

Definitely Romanticism. A German Romanticism. Definitely not of the fairy tale kind. I wonder what Caspar David was like. Whether he was a loner. What were these two figures watching, waiting for? A partial answer came from his words, filling that void:  “I must stay alone and know that I am alone to contemplate and feel nature in full; I have to surrender myself to what encircles me, I have to merge with my clouds and rocks in order to be what I am.”

While I too like mist and fog, I had never thought why. He put his predilection into words: “When a scene is shrouded in mist, it seems greater, nobler, and heightens the viewers’ imaginative powers, increasing expectation – like a veiled girl. Generally the eye and the imagination are more readily drawn by nebulous distance than by what is perfectly plain for all to see”

I contemplate his painting and feel a companionship with those two figures as they gaze out onto the scene. The word that comes to mind is ambiguity, an either/or. Which is what I shall call it.


Two great-coated silhouettes

gaze out into the distance. 

Down below –

the tidal sea with coves and islets,

or mountains rising from a sea

of clouds tethered in the valley?


The sky shimmers on the water,

reflected from the mists.

Sunrise? Sunset?


Are their thoughts turned inwards?

Are they communing wordlessly?

Will the dark in which they stand

creep slowly up,

or will it vanish

as light dispels the darkness?


Will they turn and leave,


or will they turn in silence

and go their separate ways?

Can one hear the pulsing of the waves?
Or is it the silence just before the dawn?

Are they waiting for the sun to rise
or will it be the moon?



One thought on “Ambiguity

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