“The Life of Christ: Painted by Carl Heinrich Bloch (1834–90)” Ensign, Jan. 1991, 30–50
The Life of Christ:
Painted by Carl Heinrich Bloch (1834–90)
Twenty-eight years ago, a selection of paintings on the life of Jesus by nineteenth-century Danish painter Carl Heinrich Bloch was published for members of the Church (see Improvement Era, Nov. 1962). Since then, scenes from that selection have been used many times in Church manuals and publications. Now, in this issue of the Ensign, they are published together again to tell the matchless story of the Lord.
Eighteen of the twenty paintings reproduced here are on the walls of the oratory in the Frederiksborg Castle church. Today, castle and church are a museum of national history and a Danish treasure. Because of the paintings’ utility for Church publications, representatives of the Church approached Frederiksborg Museum officials last year. We desired to rephotograph the paintings and asked if it would be possible for the scenes to be taken from the walls to receive better photographic lighting. Museum officials accepted the request, concluding also that while they were down, the paintings should be cleaned to again make vivid colors that had been dimmed by a century of accumulating dust while on public display.
Following this cleaning, the museum photographed the paintings; eighteen are reproduced on the following pages. In addition to the Frederiksborg paintings, two other paintings by Bloch are printed here: the scene at the pool of Bethesda, located at Bethesda Dansk Indre Mission, in Copenhagen, and the scene of Thomas kneeling before the resurrected Jesus, located at the church in Uggerlose, near Copenhagen.
The scenes, of course, are from the imagination and skill of Carl Bloch, a merchant’s son who as a boy prepared to be a midshipman. By his early teens, however, Carl’s artistic talents began to flower. So, in 1849, at age fifteen, he began attending Copenhagen’s Academy of Art. At age twenty, he was exhibiting his work, and at twenty-five, he went to Rome on a travel grant.
Rome served as his “home base” until 1865. There, he was influenced by the work of the Italian masters and turned his skills to painting scenes of great events. In time, he centered his focus on Danish historical events and stories of the Bible. It was a decision that would earn him great stature in Denmark throughout his career. At his life’s end, he had served as head of the Royal Academy of Art and been honored by several nations for his work.
Toward the end of his Italian studies—three years before he married a beautiful and kind girl, Alma Trepka, with whom he had eight children—31-year-old Carl Bloch received an impressive commission. He was to paint twenty-three new paintings for the rebuilt Frederiksborg Castle church oratory, which had been ravaged in an 1859 fire. Bloch worked on the paintings for the next fourteen years. For Danish art connoisseurs, Bloch’s style in the scenes was both modern and unique, and the scenery was reminiscent of life as he had seen it in Italy.
In addition to these twenty-three paintings on the life of Christ, Bloch also did at least eight large altar-pieces on the Lord’s life for other churches in Denmark and for some in Sweden. In the last two decades of his career, he cultivated etching skills, and his work was in great demand—so much so that two years before his death, a Dane wrote: Bloch has “won esteem as an outstanding painter-etcher of his time.”
For all who love the Lord Jesus Christ, however, it is the art of the Savior that we cherish. In Carl Bloch’s work we see the spirit of that which John the Beloved wrote of Jesus:
“In him was life; and the life was the light of men.
“And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not. …
“He came unto his own, and his own received him not.
“But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name.” (John 1:4–5, 11–12.)