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The Spirit of War

Updated on January 7, 2012

“The Spirit of War”, a painting by the great Jasper Francis Cropsey, is piece of artwork well worth the look in terms of comparing the various features within. Jasper Cropsey was known for his landscape portraits, his artistic philosophy yearning to recreate nature’s highest relationship with god through the natural beauty of various regions of the world. The main concept of the painting was to depict a bold comparison between the natural landscapes of the mountains in the painting with regard to the architecture nestled among the mountain hills themselves.

The entire painting as a whole explains a very broad picture that in the morning hours just before the projections of battle, a scene of knights can be seen riding from a gatehouse and over a small castle bridge. From there, the knights are shown riding off over the dirt path with grass and trees around them, all helping to create a sense of hardships ahead as it leads them to the battle that lays overhead. In the hills above, there is a rather large castle with what looks like a small town connected to the left of its walls, therefore making it a self-sufficient town of close bonds, possibly of a feudal era. There are mountains that are to the top left of the painting, a very rocky and pointed structuring that has a layer of snow around its inner passes. If you look into the sky, you can see above the castle a dark cloudy sky that has the sun rising behind the castle walls while the mountainous region the skies are clear and blue.

To gain an understanding of why the castle and knights are portrayed in the dawn of the day, you must first gain a grasp upon the concept of feudalism in all its definitive nature. Feudalism is by definition, “The dominant social system in Western Europe, in which the nobility held lands from the Crown in exchange for military service, and vassals were in turn tenants of the nobles, while the peasants were obliged to live on their lord's land and give him homage, labor, and a share of the produce, notionally in exchange for military protection”. This is exactly what you see when you view this painting, a small village within the castle noble’s protection, and in return the knights are required to leave to engage a battle for the Crown, while the mountainous background gives rise to the possible location of the castle. The castle in Warwick, England gives some resemblance of the architecture within the painting, but Cropsey devoted much of his painting to the natural balance of things, therefore the creative imagination of the mountain possibly related to southeastern European terrain coupled with England’s castle structuring gives the scene displayed here .

As you delve deeper into the painting, you begin to realize the surreal nature of the painting as a whole, beginning to understand just how close everything is in relation with each other. The Castle and the mountain, if you look closely at both their structuring, you will see how the general outline of both are almost identical. First, the towers of the castle rise and fall in relation to the general movement of the mountain walls themselves. The village that resides within the castle are made up of organisms called humans that have elemental validity just as the snow in the mountains are its source of energy and elemental appeal, supplying life and prosperity. If you look at the clouds that form the upper regions of the painting, it is noticeable of the cloudiness that forms above the castle, as if the fog of war has descended above the town, and the sun in the background behind the castle walls shows a possible victory for the knights that leave for war, of a foreseen future. The mountainous region of the painting paints a completely different story, as the skies are clear and blue overhead, while the fogs have lowered themselves below the mountains themselves, as if a pureness is part of the natural balance of the world. It is also noted that the fog itself looks as though it is slowly pushing itself into the valleys below, as if the villagers of the surrounding countryside have a questionable fate as well in this battle led day.

Looking even closer, you can pick out the natural color scheme of the painting, picking greens and reds of dominant notion, red being more predominant however. The general colors of red in the painting symbolize the notions of war and future bloodshed that will endure in the hours to come after the knights travel to their destination. If you look closely, you can see the red banners that both the knights and the castle themselves hold in their grasps, a red of passionate warfare symbolism and the town’s general concept of continued freedom no matter the consequences. You will notice that the clouds seem to roll over in red fury on the outskirts of the clouds, explaining that there will be bloodshed, but the grayness in the other parts dictate uncertainty. The Greens that make up the rest of the painting act as a split in the color scheme, allowing for a natural beauty of nature in respect the natural sinful desires of human desire. The green setting seems to roll among the hills as if the trees themselves keep the humans and their structures safe from harm and letting the spectator know that balance is needed to keep the world in harmony.

If you took and dissected this painting on a religious level, you can see how the painter sided with his higher power in presenting this painting in every particular aspect. The mountains above show a holiness and pureness as if the Christian faith and God himself was watching over the castle and it’s residents, but cast a fog over the town to let them know that human desire would be the possible downfall of them. The quote, “"Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made man”, (The Bible, Genesis 9:6), gives reference to how this painting is portrayed to the spectator. The point of the clouds that hang high above the city with red exteriors and grey interior show the dullness of the human spirit in relation to how Cropsey depicts religious sadness in respect to the human passion for war and death. The sun that shines behind the castle’s walls gives reference to the light that will shine another day regardless of present events, thereby giving a sense of purity towards the potential sinfulness of any particular species on the planet as nature takes its course.

In conclusion, Jasper Francis Cropsey created “The Spirit of War” to define the natural balance of the human emotion with the natural way of the world and of religion itself. The various aspects that make the painting a truly inspirational piece of artwork is the articulate balance between the colors of greens and reds to inspire natural beauty with passion and motivation, and the earth’s natural atmosphere of clouds and blue skies to further detail balance. This painting will go on through the centuries as a piece of artwork that truly defines the human spirit with the essential need for natural order and prosperity.


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    • BakerRambles profile image

      BakerRambles 6 years ago from Baltimore, MD

      Thank you, and yes it truly pushes the human desire for learning the wonders of it all, his landscapes are fantastic.

    • Mamadrama profile image

      Mamadrama 6 years ago from Upstate NY

      I loved reading about the history of this painting, and learning more about Cropsey. I have heard of him.. but never really investigated him further. Just admire without the background history. Thanks for sharing this.. you did a great job with it. Makes me want to look up more of his work. It also reminds me of the time I spent in Germany. To wake up and see castles in the mountain side really is a fantastic site. Your mind wonders, as you try to picture life way back when.


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