Christ’s atonement is a delicate matter to paint. Sacred and powerful, it is has the potential to be expressed beautifully or simply fail to inspire. Viewings of Christ’s atonement have seldom been depicted in accordance to my own understanding. At times Christ manners are lacking in grace and form, while the blood that some artists feel necessary to include take away from the holiness of the act. Though none know exactly how the sacrificial act was completed, I’ve never been more touched by an artist’s depiction than I was by Carl Bloch’s. “Christ in Gethsemane”, painted oil on canvas in 1878-79, is a portrayal of the great Redeemer’s atoning act of love. As written Luke;
And he was withdrawn from them about a stone’s cast, and kneeled down, and prayed, Saying, Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine,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. (22: 43-44)
In a traditional depiction, the angel Luke speaks of would be bringing Christ the bitter cup. Bloch, however, paints with greater sensitivity. The anger, full of tenderness and compassion, embraces her Savior.
The composition of the piece enhances the power manifested to the audience. Carl Bloch portrays Christ in a state of submission and frailty. The Savior’s hands are folded in submission and his eyes are weary from exertion. Dressed in red, Carl Bloch delicately conveys the blood shed by our Savior. Christ leans in weariness to the lustrous angel. Seeking strength and comfort, the Savior seems collapsed upon the heavenly being. Both positioned on a rock formation, Carl Bloch alludes to Psalm 95, “let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation” (1). Bloch does not belittle the Savior’s atonement, but rather continues to touch upon Christ’s power and redeeming goodness.
Furthermore, in contrast to the wearied Christ, the angel exudes power and strength. The angel comforts Jesus as best as she can, with her hands holding up his limp hands and her head laid upon his weary brow. The illustrious being’s face is serene and heavenly- it’s purity enhanced by its glow. Crowned with golden hair and dressed in flowing garments, the angel’s attire contrasts from the Savior’s blood red garb. Light cascades down upon the angel. Her wings are lit by a tangible aura- the illuminating goodness of the atonement.
Though not as paramount as the relationship between Christ and angel, Carl Bloch depicts masterfully the background of the Savior’s atonement. Dark and despairing, the scenery depicts the darkness closing in upon the two. Christ is the light of this world, and Bloch enhances this idea in allowing all light to shine upon the pair and the pair alone. Carl Bloch refers to the wickedness of the world around Christ in his depiction of the natural background. There is little vegetation around Christ and the angel. Nothing grows or flourishes as though corrupted by the wickedness of society. What life does exist is shriveled and dying. A twisted tree is split above Christ. Its ominous and warped nature mirrors the disposition of Satan, wicked and corrupt. Christ takes upon him the sins of all mankind. As the darkness encloses upon him, the struggle between good and evil becomes ever more pressing. All who view Bloch’s painting watch in pain as our Savior battles the sins of all. Moreover, to the lower right, a faint gleam of fire flickers foreshadowing the Romans coming to take Christ away. Stars glitter in the night sky as though other angels look down upon Christ and long to strengthen him as well.
Carl Bloch offers a depiction of the upmost power and beauty. Christ, who is our support has given of himself fully. This poignant portrayal captures my very perception of Christ. My Savior embraces me daily; much like the angel supports him. His atoning sacrifice shines upon me despite the darkness of the world. I feel such gratitude for my Christ. In this depiction, all I long to do is embrace and support my Savior. He has been my constant support and I long to help in anyway I can. My heart aches at Bloch’s portrayal of my struggling Savior. I must do all I can to not allow his suffering to be in vain.
As I sit in the presence of this powerful painting, I never want to leave. I want to sit in the glory of my God and bathe in the love that emanates from the pair. I wonder and hope that angels are present strengthening me.