Monday, September 29, 2014

Carl Bloch

The Annunciation
ca before 1890
oil on copper plate
41 x 23 in.
King's Oratory within the Frederiksborg Castle, Copenhagen, Denmark

In 1865, Carl Bloch was commissioned to create twenty-three paintings depicting the life of Jesus Christ. The works, rendered in oil on copper, took fourteen years to complete. They were installed in the King's Oratory within the Frederiksborg Castle in Copenhagen, and still reside there today. The Annunciation was the first painting completed for the oratory. As the Christian saga unfolds, the angel Gabriel proclaims to the Virgin Mary that she has been chosen to be the mother of the Savior of the World.

Carl Heinrich Bloch (1834-1890), born in Copenhagen, Denmark, as the son of a merchant was a celebrated Danish painter. His parents wanted him to enter a respectable profession - an officer in the Navy. However, this was not what he wanted. His only interest was drawing and painting, and he was consumed by the idea of becoming an artist.

In 1855, he joined the Royal Danish Academy of Art. His early work featured rural scenes from everyday life. In 1859 he received a travel grant. He used this grant to go to Holland, France and Italy. From 1859 to 1866, he lived in Italy, and this period was important for the development of his historical style. In this period, his love and admiration for Rembrandt developed. During his stay in Rome, he met his beloved wife and married her in 1868. They had a very happy and prosperous life together until her early death in 1886. The sorrow over losing his wife weighed heavily on him, and being left alone with their eight children after her death was very difficult for him.

His first great success was the exhibition of his "Prometheus Unbound" in Copenhagen in 1865. He was then commissioned to produce 23 paintings for the Chapel at Frederiksborg Palace. These were all scenes from the life of Christ which have become very popular as illustrations. The originals, painted between 1865 and 1879, are still at Frederiksborg Palace. When he died of cancer, it was reported that "Denmark has lost the artist that indisputably was the greatest among the living."

Now, more than a hundred years after his death, young artists from all over the world, attempting to illustrate the life and death of Christ, make pilgrimage to Frederiksborg Castle to study the great Master. Today, some have recognized him as perhaps the greatest artist ever to interpret the life and death of Christ.