Arts & Culture

‘The Morning’: By Phillip Otto Runge

BY Rosemarie Frühauf TIMEJune 24, 2010 PRINT


'The Morning,' by Philipp Otto Runge, oil on canvas, 106 X 81 cm, painted in 1808, Kunsthalle, Hamburg.
'The Morning,' by Philipp Otto Runge, oil on canvas, 106 X 81 cm, painted in 1808, Kunsthalle, Hamburg.
The Morning is elevating in color, stunning in technique, and unexpectedly meaningful.

This painting is one of the most mysterious works of the German early Romantic era, and yet so youthful that you wouldn’t believe it is 200 years old and emerged from a rather melancholic and politically difficult era.

Runge loved his children. You see this in his family portraits, like the picture Die Huelsenbeckschen Kinder (The Huelsenbeck Children), where neighbor boys are playing with his son.

Life is hard, but they are hopeful. This is the message in the portrait of his old parents, in which he painted the little ones next to a lily and thistles growing in the garden.

Runge was so touched by the purity of the children’s hearts that it is no wonder that he made children the main protagonists of his “Morning” painting. The break of day becomes a symbol for the divine spark in every being, emerging, heralding new life.

The composition is strictly symmetrical, which gives the whole scene a very sacred and dignified character. One feels as if looking at an old altarpiece, yet there is a very different feeling.

The woman in the middle represents the goddess Aurora. She stands on a bench of clouds, holding up a huge lily bloom. The little baby in the middle foreground is like the new day. The others welcome it.

The ones on top of the flower are like the spirits of each petal. They are six so they stand for the six petals. Not only the flower has its spirit, each petal has its spirit. This represents life on different levels: connection, interaction, harmony, and creation.

That Runge depicts an inward and an outward, a hidden and a visible state of progression, makes this picture so special. The middle part is on canvas. The frame is of wood but still indispensable to the whole composition and meaning because the frame shows us what happens under the earth: A life that starts under the earth in the root of the plant breaks through the stalk and the blossom.

The sun is still under the earth, invisible behind the horizon in the lower part of the frame. The little cherubs seem to creep up through the plants’ stalks. They become an image of the life and spirit of each flower.

You May Also Like