Prof. Dr. Helmut Börsch-Supan has kindly authenticated this painting.
Something of a polymath, Carus was a great friend of the Romantic painter, Caspar David Friedrich, and an artist himself who also wrote a published treatise on Romantic landscape painting, Nine Letters on Landscape Painting (1815-1824.) Carus played an important role in the revolution in landscape painting led by Friedrich in Saxony. Born in Leipzig, in 1789, Carus, as well as an accomplished artist, achieved considerable success as a doctor, a naturalist, a scientist and a psychologist. As an artist, he was concerned almost exclusively with landscape painting. While still at school in Leipzig, he took drawing lessons from Julius Diez and subsequently studied under Johann Veit Schnorr von Carolsfeld (1764–1841) at the Oeser drawing academy. In 1811 after six years at university he graduated as a doctor of medicine and a doctor of philosophy. From 1813 Carus taught himself oil painting, copying the Dresden landscape painter Johann Christian Klengel, whose studio Carus visited. In 1814 he was appointed professor of obstetrics and director of the maternity clinic at the teaching institution for medicine and surgery in Dresden. He was later court physician to the king of Saxony.
Carus corresponded with Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, who was his primary mentor in both science and writing. Carus’s writings also reflect, however, the influence of the German natural philosopher Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling, especially Schelling's notion of a world soul, and the writings of the naturalist and explorer Alexander von Humboldt. Carus is widely attributed as the source of the term, 'the unconscious' which was later developed by Freud. The view Carus had of the unconscious, his philosophy and his psychology, were consistent with the main tenets of Romanticism. Carus, in tern, impressed Dostoevsky so, that the novelist contemplated translating his writings into Russian.
"When a landscape is covered in fog, it heightens the strength of the
imagination and excites expectation"
- Caspar David Friedrich
That the greatest painter of German Romanticism was interested in fog should come as little surprise. Emerging in opposition to the increasing rationality of the Enlightenment and its ideals of clarity and precision, the Romantic movement instead emphasized uncertainty and strength of expression. In the mid-eighteenth century, philosopher Edmund Burke argued that a sense of vastness and infinity, chief attributes of the sublime in nature, could only be brought about through obscurity. Fog, of course, is obscurity itself. Fifty years after Burke, Romantic philosopher F.W.J. Schelling argued that the artist must become both faithful to, and separate from, nature in the production of his or her art. The artist should imitate the processes of nature, not its products. Never complete before the viewer, (in both the temporal and spatial sense) the Romantic landscape, and certainly the painting we see here, was a creative process.
According to the Artistischen Notizenblatt (vol. xix), Carus conceived of this painting on a trip to the Alps, sketching whilst staying at the Sennenhütte on St. Gotthard, Switzerland. A preparatory pencil study for this painting, likely made on this trip, titled Zwei Adler auf der Felsenspitze, is in the collection of the Kupferstichkabinett Dresden.
The Roman, French, Austrian, German, and American peoples all adopted the eagle as their emblem, though Eagles have for millennium been honored symbols. While they almost universally represent strength, courage, wisdom, and intelligence, they also have religious significance. Through its detachment from earth and proximity to the heavens, the eagle represents spirit and soul. Dante called the eagle the 'bird of God.'
The mountains here also hold religious significance. The mountain is thought to contain divine inspiration, and has long been the focus of pilgrimages of transcendence and spiritual elevation (Plutarch for example). It is another universal symbol of a nearness to God, as it surmounts the ordinary plane of human existence and extends toward the heavens. Mountains symbolize constancy and permanence in addition to its peaks spiritually signifying the state of absolute consciousness.