December 1, 2017
C.C.A. Christensen, Liberty Jail, c.1878, tempera on muslin, 78 x 114 1/8 inches. Brigham Young University Museum of Art, gift of the grandchildren of C.C.A. Christensen, 1970.
On December 1, 1838, Joseph Smith and five other Latter-day Saints were herded into Liberty Jail to await trial on charges of treason. The four-and-a-half-month imprisonment came during the harsh winter months, at the same time that the Saints were being forced to leave Missouri. During this time, the Prophet Joseph received three important revelations and wrote numerous letters to the Saints giving them counsel and encouragement. The church leaders were eventually allowed to escape.
C.C.A Christensen based this setting on an early photograph of Liberty Jail. Its bleak austerity emphasizes the hardships of the leaders’ incarceration, with little light or ventilation in the confined, frigid basement quarters. The twilight atmosphere evokes an appropriate tone for this period of suffering and uncertainty. Having experienced persecution and imprisonment as a missionary in Norway, Christensen must have had great empathy for these men.