Carl Heinrich Bloch (1834-1890)
Up until August 29, 2001, the painting of Christ Healing the Sick at Bethesdaresided at the Bethesda Indre Mission in Copenhagen, Denmark, where it has hung since 1883. This work now graces the walls of Brigham Young University Museum of Art. The paintings of Carl Heinrich Bloch [1834-1890] are familiar images to members of The Church of Jesus of Latter-day Saints. Selections of his paintings first appeared in the Improvement Era in 1962 and have been published many times since in multiple issues of the Ensign. They have appeared in numerous Church manuals and publications. Reproductions of his paintings are seen in ward and stake meetinghouses, temples, and visitors; centers. The recognized and well-loved images of the large Bethesda painting (8.4 x 10.48) and Bloch’s 23 paintings on the life of Christ at the Frederiksborg Castle are images of profound content and religious significance for members of the Church. Christ Healing the Sick at Bethesda stirs up feelings of compassion and empathy, encouragement and hope. Our dependence on the Savior to be healed spiritually and to be made whole is poignantly emphasized in His response to the infirmed man on the steps of the Bethesda pool. Furthermore, the doctrines of Sabbath-day observance and the resurrection act as underlying themes to this biblical account.
In an attempt to make their works more compelling, artists have adopted conventions that seek to involve the viewer. For instance, in Carl Heinrich Bloch’s Christ Healing the Sick at Bethesda, the curved steps surrounding the pool appear to extend beyond the canvas, including the viewer in the miraculous proceeding. Light and darkness also engage spectators by emphasizing a particular event or figure. The infirm man who receives Christ’s healing command is the object of the scriptural account, yet he lies hidden in shadow beneath the coarse canopy. Instead the light rests upon two other figures-Christ and the red-turbaned man. It is understandable that Christ, the divine Healer, would be illuminated, but the equal prominence given to the turbaned man raises questions. Why does he stare? What does he symbolize? What is his relationship to the viewer? Perhaps the man’s piercing gaze is meant to thwart others who would enter the pool before him, or perhaps he is pleading for assistance. Either unaware or skeptical of Jesus’ power to heal, he continues to wait for the waters to move, suggesting man’s inclination to trust in superstitions rather than in Christ. Whatever his motives, his confrontational expression solicits an emotional response and acknowledges the onlooker as a participant in the story.