Sunday, January 23, 2011

Carl Bloch: The Master's Hand

I visited the BYU Museum of Art last week and saw this amazing exhibit of works by painter Carl Bloch (1834-1890).  He wasn't a Mormon at all, but Mormons kind of have taken his work under his wing and you see him EVERYWHERE.  Meetinghouses, magazines, primary presentations... everywhere.  I believe he was led by the Spirit to paint certain images of Christ in the way that he did.
I feel like Bloch portrays Christ as a figure who is divine, but nevertheless human.  There's no plastic halo above His head, no host of angels following Him wherever he goes, but through his human figure, Bloch has created this light within Him.  He emanates this subtle, welcoming warmth to all who are around him.
I also like the way Bloch invites the audience to join his pictures by painting someone in the picture who breaks the fourth wall and looks out at us, the viewers. You can see that in his portrayal of Christ at the Pool of Bethesda.  The man in the red cap is looking right at us.  It's sort of an invitation for me to be more like Christ.  To come to those in need -- like that man in the picture.  The sheer size of this painting is pretty powerful, too.  I saw the original at the exhibit and it's HUGE.  A cool things I noticed when I saw it was the expression of the man underneath the makeshift tent.  I always had trouble seeing him in scans of the print because the shadow is so strong under there.  But the man looks awed, humbled, joyful and fearing.  Bloch has captured a great expression there.

Another painting I saw at the exhibit was the one of Christ Blessing a Child.  This isn't my favorite work of His.  It's a bit more iconographic than I would prefer, and that kid is sort of giving me this "I-Told-You-So" look.  It's a little imposing.  But maybe that's what Bloch was going for.  He's kind of showing us what we can learn from little children.  I mean, they're the ones who are automatically saved, not us.  I suppose the palm leaf in the kid's hand is a symbol of some sort.  I remember that palm branches were waved during Christ's triumphant entry into Jerusalem.  Maybe it's a symbol for recognizing Christ when you see him.  We need to be able to greet his second coming with hosannas and shouts for joy, and we can't do that unless we know him when he comes!  What a deep picture...

I also want to emphasize these two paintings here:

Both of them are called Agony in the Garden. The one on the left is from an altarpiece and the one on the right is in some castle somewhere.  Mormons don't use these much because the angels have wings on them, and Mormons don't believe angels have wings.  But I think the depiction of Christ in agony is very moving in both of these renditions of his sufferings in Gethsemane.  Obviously Christ is exhausted, begging his Father to remove the cup from him.  I really like both of these, but I think I like the one on the left better.  You see Christ's face more, and the two figures fill the space more effectively.  Plus you got the mysterious background that counterbalances the quiet stream of light coming down from the right very well.  The wings of the angel are also softer, which is appealing to me.  I can give credit to the other picture for its clarity and its vibrant color, but I think the altarpiece version takes the cake for most spiritually moving.  

Listening to:  MoTab
Things Going On Today:  Ward Conference, game night, home teachers come over
Blessings:  Letters from missionaries, sleeping in, and amazing roommates. 

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