Visiting BYU Museum
On March 25, 2015, I visited the exhibition “In Word & Deed”, which took place at the Brigham Young University Museum of Art, found in 1993. It is a part of the Brigham Young University College of Fine Arts and Communications. Its major role is to contribute to the academic mission of BYU, hence it is open for students from college and the university campus. There are an enormous number of paintings, sculptures, video, and photos at this museum.
The long-term exhibition “In Word and Deed: Five Centuries of Religious Art” presents the original paintings on paper for open review and study. Many of the works in this exhibition were instructional aids to help worshippers, often illiterate or unschooled, and to comprehend teachings embodied in sacred writ. These artworks intended to spur emotional connections with the Divine. Thus, the exhibition had been transformed enduring expressions of belief and insight.
The first interesting piece that my eyes captured was Our Saviour Subject to his Parents at Nazareth also known as The Youth of Our Lord painted by John Herbert (1860). This picture cannot fail to arrest the eye of every single visitor of this exhibition. Herbert is an admirable colorist, who combines both excellences of expression and form, making it the most poetical and imaginative works one featured in this exhibition. It represents a circumstance, which is not historical but highly probable. This exuberant painting depicts the Holy Family in their secluded home in Nazareth and shows all the members occupied with ordinary work.
The artist shows us Joseph doing carpentry under a shed, adjacent to the house while Mary is sitting by the spinning wheel (Herbert, 1860). She is looking concernedly at her approaching Son, the youthful Christ, who is carrying a flat wicker basket to collect wooden chips swept together on the ground. The two pigeons are sitting near the house entrance. Some wood, thrown on the ground beside’s Joseph humble workshop has formed a cross. It naturally lights up thoughts in the mind of the Jesus Christ who stand for a moment looking at it. His Mother is looking at him in intense and loving interest.
Nothing can be simpler than the composition of this picture (Herbert, 1860). There are no efforts at strong effects by combinations. Each figure is apart, detached, in order to receive and separate attention. The attitudes are singularly simple and natural. The author drew it with a delicate accuracy of a fold, feature, and lineament. A precaution is very important in the careful observation of each figure in its detail. There is nothing in the accessories to divide the attention. The landscape similar to the present arid reality of Nazareth is stern, unvaried, and not distracting (Herbert, 1860). Due to this fact, the entire attention concentrates on the figures. This painting requires no book learning to understand and to comprehend it. It makes only tender and devout impression.
The second piece that attracted my attention was Adoration of the Shepherds (Le Sueur, 17th century). The most interesting fact about this painting in the exhibition is that it arrived at BYU Museum as an anonymous artwork in 2004. At first, people knew nothing about its origin. After long examinations, it became evident that it was the 17th-century painting by Eustache Le Sueur, who is an artist of the French Baroque era. It is one of his finest works.
The Adoration of the Shepherds draws upon the biblical account of how an angel guided shepherds to the nativity of the Messiah (Le Sueur, 17th century). In the foreground, there are three shepherds and there are angels in the upper left corner in the background. The shepherds found the Holy Family and admire the Infant Christ. This painting displays the Adoration of the Child by Mary, and Joseph standing behind her. The Virgin Mary and Joseph presented Jesus Christ to the shepherds, who in their turn respond with great wonder. The Infant’s nakedness emphasizes his poverty and humility. An ox in the background is a sacrificial animal, which symbolizes Christ’s passion. In this painting, the artist endowed the Holy Family with physical beauty and grace. They can easily mingle with ordinary shepherds in such humble places.
The Adoration of the Shepherds becomes not just a historical moment in which the shepherds adored the child Jesus, but also a continuing one, inviting a viewer to experience a theophany (Le Sueur, 17th century). The colors of figures’ clothes in the composition are primary, as well as some orange and green. The foreground of the picture is primarily linear, but the middle ground becomes pictorial; the background is one-colored. The painter does the modeling with dark tones, initially grey and black. The faces of the figures in this picture are similar to ones on other pictures of Le Sueur.
The architecture in this painting is classical, and the style of broken columns is present in other works of this artist. The Child is lying on a white cloth, which Mary holds. The whole scene seems to have stopped in time for a viewer. All the characteristics found in the Adoration of the Shepherds are inherent to all the works of Eustache Le Sueur (Le Sueur, 17th century).
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To conclude with, both of these paintings are oil on canvas. This wonderful exhibition at the Brigham Young University Museum of Art taught me many things about the divine nature of Christ. These two artworks made by the most prominent painters teach and strengthen religious doctrines and undoubtedly promoted special private considerations. I cannot wait to visit more exhibitions and enjoy the beauty of art at this museum.