Rückenfigur

Rückenfigur, translating as ‘Back Figure’, was a device coined by the German Romantics to use a back-facing figure in their paintings to illustrate a sense of emotional isolation and longing, inviting the viewer into the picture. The rückenfigur was often looking at out from a high vantage point over a sublime landscape, as typified by the painter Casper David Friedrich.

This trope has been used in many aspects of art and visual culture. The presence of the rückenfigur takes the place of the viewer, allowing them to empathise and experience the scene, but the viewer can never fully know what precisely the rückenfigur is looking at, creating a tension between them.