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Sacred Gifts 'incredibly meaningful' to Christians

Museum of Art director Mark Magleby speaks about exhibit at devotional

In the first devotional of the spring term on the campus of Brigham Young University, BYU Museum of Art director Mark Magleby explained the significance of paintings within the current exhibit “Sacred Gifts: The Religious Paintings of Carl Bloch, Heinrich Hofmann, and Frans Schwartz.”

The Christ-centered focus in the exhibit “leaves little doubt that the Museum of Art is a place where we strive to honor Jesus,” Magleby said.

“The sense of these works of art having a genuine spiritual connection to our covenants and to not only the Savior’s mortal ministry, but even pointing to His infinite Atonement, has been perpetually in our consciousness,” Magleby said.

He invited those listening to consider with him, “why religious imagery, usually pictorial narratives from the scriptures, including the works in our exhibition, has been incredibly meaningful to a huge spectrum of Christians.”

During the devotional, Magleby showed various paintings within the collection and shared insights on their spiritual significance.

Using Carl Bloch’s Healing at the Pool of Bethesda as an example, Magleby said, “When viewing an original work at full scale, in close proximity, the viewer can see symbolic details that may go unnoticed in smaller reproductions, and can also discover the pleasure of seeing, to some degree, how the artist achieves his or her ends through stylistic elements like individualistic brush strokes, color combinations, surface texture, or illusionistic space achieved through perspective and modeling with light and shadow.”

Magleby offered insight into why these paintings are considered significant to all believers in Christ. For example, Suffer the Little Children to Come unto Me, by Carl Bloch, shows Christ’s loving instruction without reproach to his disciples. Also, the fabric hanging above Jesus’ head, Magleby said, “separates the place where Jesus sits from any ordinary place, implying wherever the Son of man sits to receive his people becomes as the throne of God.”

Frans Schwartz’s Agony in the Garden, easily the most popular work in the collection, is popular because of its special interest in the doctrine of the atonement. The angel’s wings enclose, Magleby said, “protectively around the Savior, the way He had metaphorically described his desire to use wings to gather His people.”

Bloch’s Christ’s Consolidator Magleby said, “is the embodiment of a teaching, ‘come unto me all who are heavy laden and I will give thee rest.’” Magleby explained that the various figures within the painting have come unto Christ, each seeking rest from the Savior.

“Another painting I’ve come to love is Hoffman’s The Crucifixion of Christ, Magleby said. “Each of the guards have a distinct personality.” Some of the guards are angry, some just men at work, some men who have different takes on the path they are on. “One thing is clear – there is a conversion taking place here,” Magleby said. “As we look at these gathered soldiers, we see the beginnings of Christianity spreading beyond the Jews.”

Christ being crucified, as depicted in Bloch’s The Crucifixion, “is a fantastic thoughtful interpretation of all of the figures there,” Magleby said. He explained that while Latter-day Saints are sometimes uncomfortable with crucifixion paintings, “there is some power in portraying the atonement this way.”

Showing Bloch’s The Resurrection, which portrays the moment when Jesus breaks forth from the tomb, Magleby said that the off-balance use of lighting portrays the resurrection with the pre-existing symbol of resurrection – the rising sun.

“Sacred imagery, such as the works of Carl Bloch, Heinrich Hofmann and Frans Schwartz, studied as we might the attributes of Christ from the scriptures, can supplement our understanding of the Savior and the infinite atonement and, for each of us, the very specific atonement,” Magleby said. “We bring our own experience – poring over the scriptures, pondering and interpreting to the best of our ability our own promptings of the spirit – to the sacrament table, and over time we have rich visual and intuitive associations with the Savior and his sacrifice for us.”

The most important take away from the exhibit is how it will impact our own lives, Magleby said.

“Thoughtful and prolonged consideration of scriptures that inspired Bloch, Hofmann, and Schwartz, as well as of their images, will lead us to greater access to inspiration and to godly works,” he said.

To read the talk in its entirety, visit speeches.byu.edu. The devotional will also be rebroadcast on BYUtv. Check byutv.org for schedules or to stream it on demand

Writer: Stephanie Bahr

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