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Saturday, November 5, 2016

Carl Bloch

Christ with Thorns (left) and Christ Mocked by Soldier,
1880, Carl Bloch
About two years ago I compiled a series of articles on the Life of Christ as seen by artists down through the centuries. One of those artist was the Danish painter, Carl Heinrich Bloch. Although I admired his work at the time, he was just one of many. The two portraits of Christ (above) provide a poignant insight as to the man's talent. Any artist who has ever tried will tell you how exceedingly difficult it is to paint two virtually identical images. Other than the soldier, of course, the only difference I can see is in the amount of light reflected from the facial tones of Christ's face. Whether the difference is deliberate or accidental is hard to say. Which one was painted first makes little difference, though it's likely they were both done about the same time.
Though an outstanding portrait painter, Bloch apparently
preferred photos of himself to self-portraits.
Carl Bloch was born in Copenhagen, Denmark, in 1834. From childhood, young Carl was consumed by the idea of becoming an artist. Overcoming the objections of his parents (a not uncommon difficulty among upper-middle-class families back then) at the age of fifteen, Bloch was admitted to the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts. Around 1860, at the age of twenty-five, Bloch won a travel scholarship to Rome, where he painted his first masterpiece—The Liberation of Prometheus. There Bloch met and married his wife in 1868. They had eight children.
The Roman Tavern, 1866, Carl Bloch
Bloch's early work featured rural scenes from everyday life. He painted portraits, a few rather bland, forgettable landscapes, and a few genre scenes. One of my favorites, The Roman Tavern (above) likely came from the period, 1859 to 1866, when Block lived and studied in Italy. This period was important for the development of his historical style. In 1886, following their return to Copenhagen, Bloch's wife died, leaving him with a sizable family to support as he worked on his sole commission at the time, to create 23 paintings for the King’s Oratory chapel at Frederiksborg Castle. He was to spent fourteen years completing them. Several may be seen below.
These and seventeen others depicting the life of
Christ were all painted between 1865 and 1879.
Carl Bloch's 23 paintings for the Chapel at Frederiksborg Palace have become very popular as illustrations. The originals are still at Frederiksborg Palace. An additional six altarpieces can be found at Holbaek, Odense, Ugerloese and Copenhagen in Denmark, as well as Loederup, Hoerup, and Landskrona in Sweden. Carl Bloch died of cancer on in 1890. According to an article by Sophus Michaelis, His death came as "an abrupt blow for Nordic art." He left behind some 250 paintings and 75 etchings.

Only in the museum setting can the scale and emotional impact of Bloch's major works be appreciated.
In more recent years, Bloch's paintings have become favorites of the Latter Day Saints (Mormon Church) in Utah. They own his Christ Healing at the Pool of Bethesda from 1883, as well as a recently acquired grisaille version of The Mocking of Christ (top). The LDS church has produced films depicting scriptural accounts of Christ's mortal ministry. They have used Bloch's paintings as models for the color, light and overall set designs, as well as the movement of the actors in many of the filmed scenes such as those depicted below.

Though Bloch's style is obviously related to the Realism
movement of his time, and thus somewhat dated in
appearance today, they have lost none of their spiritual
power when seen up-close and personally.
Bloch painted several versions of this scene.
A Smiling Monk, 1888, Carl Bloch

Little Ragman, Carl Bloch


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