Sacred Gifts Exhibit

The Agony in the Garden - Frans Schwartz

outside sacred gifts exhibitSacred Gifts is an art exhibit on display at the Brigham Young University Museum of Art until May 2014. The exhibit features nearly two dozen paintings of the life of Jesus Christ by three European master painters from the late-19th century: Carl Bloch, Heinrich Hofmann, and Frans Schwartz. I took my family to see the exhibit last week and we all greatly enjoyed it. Even Truman, our four year old, was on his best behavior and seemed to realize the sacredness of the experience.

Most of these works have never before been on view in the United States, and are being loaned to the BYU Museum of Art from churches and museums in Germany, Sweden, Denmark, and New York. (At the exhibit itself, they list specifically which churches and museums lent the art work, but unfortunately, the BYU Sacred Gifts website does not mention them by name and I can’t now remember them.) Much of the art had never even previously left the walls of the churches where they were originally hung, so it is a special privilege to have them in the US and on display for us to see.

“Sacred Gifts”

The term “Sacred Gifts” is derived from an LDS scriptural reference in which God spoke to the prophet Joseph Smith about his translation of  The Book of Mormon, a newly revealed ancient book of scripture. Said the Lord to Joseph, “Behold thou hast a gift, and blessed art thou because of thy gift. Remember it is sacred and cometh from above.” (D&C 6: 10)

In using the term “sacred gifts” as the title of this exhibit, there are several implications. One is the sacred gift or talent these artists had to capture the life, power, and feeling of the Savior in this wonderful artful. Another meaning of “sacred gifts” is the art pieces themselves and how they are gifts to all of humanity, testifying of the reality and divinity of Jesus Christ.


The Agony in the Garden - Frans Schwartz

Agony in the Garden, Frans Schwartz, 1898, Oil on canvas, Nørresundby Kirke, Nørresundby, Denmark, Photograph courtesy of Hans Nyberg

All of the artwork was so wonderful, it’s hard to pick favorites, but honestly, I do have some I liked above the rest.

Agony in the Garden

One of my favorite paintings in the exhibit is called Agony in the Garden by Frans Schwartz. The posted image here to the right does not do it justice. I had never seen this painting before and it touched me deeply. Some time ago I was studying the Atonement of Christ and his suffering in the Garden of Gethsemane and I was stuck profoundly the scripture that teaches that God sent an angel to strengthen him at that moment:

“And he was withdrawn from them about a stone’s cast, and kneeled down, and prayed, Saying, Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done. And there appeared an angel unto him from heaven, strengthening him. And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly: and his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground.” Luke 22: 41-44

What struck me about the presence of the angel was that the angel was there, in person, and there is a special power in that that cannot be replicated at a distance. Of course praying for someone from a distance is good and powerful, but there is no substitute for being their in person to comfort and strengthen others.

The Resurrection

The Resurrection - Carl Bloch

The Resurrection, Carl Heinrich Bloch, 1873. Museum of National History on Frederiksborg Castle. Courtesy of the Hope Gallery.

Another favorite of mine, and our four year old, was The Resurrection by Carl Bloch. I am familiar with many of the paintings of Carl Bloch but this one was new to me. There is much symbolism in this painting, more than I understand at the moment or can get into in this post. Like the other paintings, the digital image here doesn’t do justice to the actual thing in person. The actual painting seems much brighter and whiter.

This painting captures the powerful moment of Christ’s emergence from the tomb and looks heavenward with his arms raised in a gesture of acknowledgment and gratitude. Appearing from the entrance of the tomb is a growth of white lilies, a symbol of virtue, purity, and, particularly at Easter, new life. It must have been just moments after the events in this painting that Luke records:

“Now upon the first day of the week, very early in the morning, they came unto the sepulchre, bringing the spices which they had prepared, and certain others with them. And they found the stone rolled away from the sepulchre. And they entered in, and found not the body of the Lord Jesus. And it came to pass, as they were much perplexed thereabout, behold, two men stood by them in shining garments: And as they were afraid, and bowed down their faces to the earth, they said unto them, Why seek ye the living among the dead? He is not here, but is risen.” Luke 24: 1-6

For more information, including how to get tickets, go to the BYU Sacred Gifts website. Tickets are free, but due to the popularity of the exhibit and large crowds, you need to have a ticket to get in to see it. Also, you may want to check out, from the local Salt Lake City NBC affiliate KSL, this video on the Sacred Gifts Art Exhibit.

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