"Rückenfigur" or figure from the back

Why are we so drawn to works that turn their back on us?

Wanderer above the Sea of ​​Fog (1817) by Caspar David Friedrich.

The Rückenfigur or the person who turns his back on us, is one of the most exploited resources in the history of art in all its disciplines. Without a doubt, the work that best represents this category is the Wanderer above the Sea of ​​Fog (1817) by Caspar David Friedrich. We all know him, right? And it is that the German romantics were the pioneers in popularizing this absorbed and solitary position, precisely because of the feelings of melancholy and mystery that they aroused.


Let's understand that the romantics did not invent anything, of course they were not the first to introduce characters with their backs to the pictorial compositions, but they were to endow them with a special meaning. Already during the Renaissance and especially in the Baroque, the artists specialized in the representation of costumbrist scenes in which, occasionally, a character appeared with his back to the observer, even if they were mere 'staffage' or secondary characters.


But why does the rückenfigur arouse a particular interest in the human eye? Art historian Julian Jason Haladyn has considered the possibility that it represents a greater opportunity for the viewer to position himself within the context of the work and to interact in a deeper way with the elements that compose it. A bit like what happens with video games. Here you have an example of rückenfigur in our website




And it is not for less, because we must bear in mind that the artistic tradition carried almost 5 millennia of portraits and faces that did nothing more than demonstrate the beauty, power and influence of monarchs and relevant figures from different Western cultures . So, in the same way that these portraits have evolved until reaching the current era of the selfie, the artistic resource of turning one's back has also known how to transcend the limits of painting to replicate itself in photography, graphic design and, of course, cinema.


It is true that wealth is found in variety and, luckily, this resource has been exploited in very different variants. Despite the fact that in the beginning this type of composition was also highly appreciated for the landscapes that the viewer could visualize behind the main character, in contemporary photography artists such as Erin Madigan Heck and Lakin Ogunbanwo use the human figure as a focal point, abandoning any possibility of landscape or background in the composition.


But, without a doubt, the medium in which we can find more reproductions of the rückenfigur today is on Instagram, the king of social networks in which, sometimes in an original way and others without any grace, we find people's backs and even from their pets.

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