This is the third version of one of Friedrich's most famous paintings, of which the first (1819) is in the Gemäldegalerie, Dresden, and the second (ca. 1824) is in the Alte Nationalgalerie, Berlin. The two men contemplating the sinking moon have been identified as Friedrich himself, on the right, and his talented young colleague August Heinrich (1794–1822). The mood of pious contemplation relates to fascination with the moon as expressed in contemporary poetry, literature, philosophy, and music. Both figures are seen from the back so that the viewer can participate in their communion with nature, which the Romantics saw as a manifestation of the Sublime.
Although the landscape is imaginary, it is based on studies after nature that Friedrich had made in various regions at different times. Both men wear Old German dress, which had been adopted in 1815 by radical students as an expression of opposition to the ultraconservative policies then being enforced in the wake of the Napoleonic Wars. The staunchly patriotic Friedrich deliberately ignored the 1819 royal decree forbidding this practice and depicted figures in traditional costume until his death.