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How Carl Bloch's paintings Defined the Latter-day Saints' (Mormon's) Image of Jesus

Updated on November 7, 2016
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Katie has been a member of the LDS Church since her baptism at age 8. She graduated from seminary and will graduate from BYU in April.

Carl Bloch

This is a portrait of the great religious painter, Carl Bloch
This is a portrait of the great religious painter, Carl Bloch | Source

The Atmosphere of Religious Art in Carl Bloch's Day

By the end of the 18th century, most Catholic countries were riddled with cathedrals, monasteries, churches, convents, abbeys and other religious buildings. This caused a drastic reduction in the number of art commissions made by the Church.

During this time, Catholicism also lost ground to other belief systems such as nationalism and socialism and the Catholic Church was raising less money for art.

The middle class’ demand for portraits and landscapes was increasing, a trend that had already swept through protestant areas. As such, there were fewer religious paintings produced during this time and noblemen were much more important patrons of fine arts than were churches, during Carl Bloch's lifetime.

For a short biography about Carl Bloch, click here.

Carl Bloch's Big Commissions

Towards the end of Bloch’s time in Italy, he was commissioned to paint 23 paintings of Christ for the King’s Praying Chamber in the Frederiksborg Castle Chapel, which was being restored after a devastating fire in 1859.

Upon successfully completing the commission for the King, he was commissioned to paint 8 altarpieces for churches across Denmark and Sweden.This shows his popularity and ability to stand out among the religious painters of the day, as it was not common for a painter to fill so many altarpiece commissions in Bloch’s day.

Not only was the King’s commission pivotal to the rest of Bloch’s career, but it has continued to define his success and the role his art plays in religion today.

Carl Bloch's paintings become LDS Favorites

In November 1962, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints published twenty of Bloch’s paintings depicting the Life of the Savior, Jesus Christ, in the Improvement Era, a church magazine. (The Life of Christ: Painted by Carl Heinrich Bloch)

The originals of eighteen of the twenty paintings printed by the LDS church at that time hang in the oratory of the Frederiksborg Castle Church, which is now a museum and a Danish national treasure. These paintings have been used in manuals and church publications many times over the last half century and have played a key role in shaping the Latter-day Saints’ mental image of the Savior.

Bloch's Christ Healing at the Pool of Bethesda

Bloch's "Christ Healing at the Pool of Bethesda" now permanently resides in BYU's Museum of Art in Provo Utah.
Bloch's "Christ Healing at the Pool of Bethesda" now permanently resides in BYU's Museum of Art in Provo Utah. | Source

Bloch's Altarpiece Finds a New Home Among Latter-day Saints

In 1990, representatives of the LDS Church asked the Frederiksborg Museum to take the paintings down to receive better photographic lighting so the church could re-photograph the paintings. The museum officials agreed and used the opportunity to clean the paintings.

The 18 paintings from the castle were published in the January 1991 ensign along with the scene of Thomas kneeling before the resurrected Jesus, which was located at the church in Uggerlose, near Copenhagen, and “Christ Healing the Sick at Bethesda,” which was located at the Bethesda Dansk Indre Mission in Copenhagen.

The Bethesda Dansk Indre Mission is a humanitarian organization which strives to “spread the Kingdom of God” in Copenhagen. The group also seeks to help and support children and young people, aid the poor and the sick, and offer education. (Bethesda.dk - Københavns Indre Mission)

“Christ Healing the Sick at Bethesda” was acquired from the mission by Brigham Young University’s Museum of Art in 2001. It was one of the 5 signature altar pieces of the exhibit “Carl Bloch: The Master’s Hand” which was displayed at the Museum of Art from November 12, 2010 to May 7, 2011. The other 4 altar pieces in the exhibit hadn’t left their altar settings since they were installed in the 1800s. (News)

Carl Bloch's Paintings are Displayed in Utah in an Exhibit Called "Sacred Gifts"

This is a photo of 8 of Bloch's paintings hanging in the BYU Museum of Art during the Exhibit "Sacred Gifts."
This is a photo of 8 of Bloch's paintings hanging in the BYU Museum of Art during the Exhibit "Sacred Gifts."

Sacred Gifts

After incredible success with their 2010-2011 exhibit, the BYU MOA arranged with the Frederiksborg Museum for 16 of Bloch’s paintings to be displayed in their exhibit Sacred Gifts: The Religious Art of Carl Bloch, Heinrich Hofmann and Frans Schwartz. The paintings were loaned in two installments of eight. Museum officials said that the paintings had been loaned out of respect for the love the LDS people have for Carl Bloch’s work, but that they would not be loaned again. The exhibit ran from November 15, 2013 to May 10, 2014.

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