Artwork of the Week: March 24, 2019
Carl Heinrich Bloch (1834-1890), Christ in Gethsemane, 1880, etching, 5 3/8 x 3 11/16 inches. Brigham Young University Museum of Art, purchased with funds provided by J. Robert and Lisa Wheatley, 2001.
Gethsemane was the first etching Bloch showed in 1880—his public debut as a printmaker. Bloch initially painted this scene as part of his Life of Christ series at Frederiksborg Castle in 1875 and again as an altarpiece in 1879–1880. His return to this subject suggests a desire to delve more deeply into this pivotal moment of divine sacrifice.
Stripped of the rich color of his painted versions, the dramatic contrast of light and dark in this etching is both artistic and symbolic. A compassionate angel cradles Christ’s exhausted form, its wash of radiant light echoing the Savior’s receipt of divine grace. The darkness and gnarled tree that fill the right side denote the oppressive pain and adversity of His ordeal. One contemporary considered this etching Bloch’s preeminent statement about Christ’s redemptive mercy—a “trembling poem about limits for the limitless, about light in the dark of Gethsemane.”