Gary Vikan - Getting to Know Jesus

Gary Vikan is the director of the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, Maryland, a Byzantine scholar, and the editor of several works of art. He speaks regularly on the topic of how Jesus has been displayed through art.
Vikan with Sallman's "Head of Christ"
in the background
I was born in 1946 in a small farming town in northern Minnesota.  Given that most of its inhabitants were of Scandinavian descent, it’s probably not surprising that four of its seven churches were Lutheran.  Ours, Hope Lutheran Church, was the largest in town, and just a few yards south of our house.  My mother played the piano in church, my older sister played the organ, and my father sang baritone in the church choir.  I was the youngest of five, and comfortably fell into the pattern of weekly church attendance, Sunday school, Friday School (it was legal then), Christmas pageants, and eventually Confirmation, that had been regularized by my three older sisters and my older brother.
From the beginning, when I could have been no more than four or so, I formed the opinion that Sunday sermons were much too long and the pews much too hard.  Attention Deficit Disorder is certainly what I had, but then it was called “ants in the pants.” 
Anyhow, I had plenty of time to look at Jesus each week from those pews.  And he came in three incarnations, so to speak.  In the large stained glass window at the left he was praying on a big rock in the Garden of Gethsemane while at the right he was in a boat on the Sea of Galilee, beckoning toward a doubtful Peter to walk toward him on the water.  Only much later did I realize that both scenes were all about doubt, and surely were intended to give assurance to those earnest farmers gathered on Sunday in those oak pews that self-doubt was more than normal.  Not to worry.
Hope Lutheran Church
Jesus over the altar was a very different Jesus.  First, he was now a painted plaster statue and full size, so he had much more presence.  And second, he was the Resurrection Jesus, stepping forward as if from the Tomb, the wounds of his Passion fully exposed, and bright red.  This was the Christ of Triumph and of Salvation, and only very much later did I figure out that this was our town’s copy of the Danish-Icelandic neo-classical sculptor Bertel Thorvalsen’s famous Christus of 1836, created for the Vor Frue Kirke in Copenhagen.  But ours was even better than the original, since it was colored in gentle tones of blue, yellow, and pink, with gold trim. 


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