Devil’s Bridge in the Schoellenen

Painting Title: Devil’s Bridge in the Schoellenen
Artist: Caspar Wolf (1735-1783)
Location: Private Collection

Swiss painter Caspar Wolf was known primarily for his landscape paintings, those with the Alps to be precise. Wolf’s imagery of glaciers, waterfalls, caves or creeks are epic, and so much so that with the aid of the grey tone of colorization in his paintings, those natural formations seem cold and impervious- a lurking hostility that welcomes not the viewers’ ready absorption. One can imagine standing before a grand painting by Wolf and not awed by its overwhelming magnificence but woefully dwarfed by its monstrosity.

Seen here the 1777 painting titled, Devil’s Bridge in the Schoellenen. A precipitous bridge straddles between the gorges, which magnitude dominates the majority of the canvas, and reduces the sky to merely a conical view. A rumbling stream of water races to its still pool, and the boisterous spirit within, reluctant to be transmuted abruptly to insipid sedateness, bubbles still white and frothy.

The travelers, possibly trudging up to the summit, and down through all the creaks and crevices untrammeled, suddenly encounter this bridge, which, thanks to the white vapor of the waterfall, is made only dimly visible. One can almost feel the palpitation of the travelers’, when the deafening din of the rushing water only contributes to their growingly fainter hearts. Finally, an audacious one takes a tentative step on the wobbly-looking bridge, and nimbly he crosses to the safe side all in one breathe. Triumphantly the victor raises his horse and beckons his companions to come trotting through.

For me the painting is an embodiment of courage, a whipping-up of the collective morale, and a shaft of hopeful light through the heavily encompassing mist of desolation and danger. It is also a pictorial evidence of the underestimated power of men, which is often preternaturally augmented when facing their toughest moment.

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