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BYU’s Old Testament art exhibition arrives at perfect moment for ‘Come, Follow Me’ students


PROVO, Utah — Longtime patrons of Brigham Young University’s Museum of Art already know the name James Tissot well.

In 2010, the museum hosted a major exhibition titled “The Life of Christ,” with more than 100 Savior-themed works by the 19th-century French artist that commemorated Christ’s mortal ministry.

Now Tissot is making an encore of sorts at the Church-sponsored school — and his return comes at the perfect time for Latter-day Saints exploring the wonders of the Old Testament in this year’s “Come, Follow Me” curriculum.

A new BYU-MOA exhibition — “Prophets, Priests, and Queens: James Tissot’s Men and Women of the Old Testament” — features 129 watercolor illustrations depicting scenes, stories and figures from the Hebrew Bible.

While the new Tissot/Old Testament exhibition opens at a timely moment for “Come, Follow Me” students, curators at the museum have been working on “Prophets, Priests and Queens” since 2014.

“The Life of Christ” Tissot exhibition and its vivid depictions and perspectives on the life of the Savior “really resonated with our audience,”  said Ashlee Whitaker, the museum’s Roy and Carol Christensen Curator of Religious Art. 

That prompted a natural interest in exhibiting key works from the vast collection of Tissot’s Old Testament-themed works. “We had visions of bringing this to our community for several years … then, in 2018, we thought, ‘Wow, what if we could align this show with “Come, Follow Me.”’ 

“So it is definitely intentional that we waited until 2022.”

James Jacques Joseph Tissot (1836-1902), “Rebecca Meets Isaac by the Way,” c. 1896-1901, gouache on board, 11 5/8 x 7 4/9 in, The Jewish Museum, New York. Image provided by the Jewish Museum, New York. Gift of the heirs of Jacob Schiff. The painting is included in a 2022 Old Testament-themed exhibition at BYU’s Museum of Art.

James Jacques Joseph Tissot (1836-1902), “Rebecca Meets Isaac by the Way,” c. 1896-1901, gouache on board, 11 5/8 x 7 4/9 in, The Jewish Museum, New York. Image provided by the Jewish Museum, New York. Gift of the heirs of Jacob Schiff. The painting is included in a 2022 Old Testament-themed exhibition at BYU’s Museum of Art.

Credit: The Jewish Museum, New York

Church News podcast, episode 60: Sunday School general presidency on ‘Come, Follow Me’ 2022 on the Old Testament

Tissot spent much of his artistic career capturing the fashions and social mores of contemporary British and French society. “But then, in the latter part of his life, he experienced a kind of religious conversion back to his Catholic heritage and devoted himself to illustrating scripture,” said Whitaker.

The painter visited the Holy Land, met with scholars and researched sacred writings to inform his depictions of moments from both the Old and New testaments.

“And then as an artist, Tissot brings his own sense of imagination and vision to his work,” said Whitaker. “His goal was to make scripture come to life. He wanted the lives of these women and men from the scriptures to be more real. So he infuses his paintings with a lot of relatable human emotions to invite us into these scenes in ways that we might not have thought about.” 

Given the rich detail found in each Tissot work, curators at the Museum of Art hope visitors can, if possible, make repeated visits back to the exhibition to re-experience the paintings even as they continue their Old Testament studies and gain new insights.

“This is a really important show for us,” said Whitaker. “We’re thrilled by the quality of the art — and more than that, we’re absolutely thrilled that our community can experience these works of art at such a wonderful time in our gospel curriculum.”

“Prophets, Priests and Queens” was made possible by a loan of artworks from the Jewish Museum in New York City, which acquired Tissot’s entire Old Testament series of 368 gouache paintings in 1947, according to the MOA.

The Jewish Museum is allowing BYU’s Museum of Art to display this selection of works through the end of 2022. A fully illustrated color catalog of Tissot’s “Men and Women of the Old Testament,” including essays by scholars of art history and the Bible, will be available Aug. 1.

James Jacques Joseph Tissot (1836-1902) and Michel Simondy (1870-1933), “Daniel in the Lion’s Den,” c. 1896-1904, gouache on board, 7 4/7 x 11 in, The Jewish Museum, New York. Image provided by the Jewish Museum, New York. Gift of the heirs of Jacob Schiff. The depiction of the familiar story from the Old Testament is included in a 2022 exhibition at the BYU Museum of Art.

James Jacques Joseph Tissot (1836-1902) and Michel Simondy (1870-1933), “Daniel in the Lion’s Den,” c. 1896-1904, gouache on board, 7 4/7 x 11 in, The Jewish Museum, New York. Image provided by the Jewish Museum, New York. Gift of the heirs of Jacob Schiff. The depiction of the familiar story from the Old Testament is included in a 2022 exhibition at the BYU Museum of Art.

Credit: Image provided by the Jewish Museum, New York

Additionally, a symposium on the exhibition will be at the museum in October. Further information on both the catalog and the symposium will be announced on the museum’s website at a later date. 

“I’m thrilled for visitors to get to know the Old Testament in a whole new way,” added Philipp Malzl, the museum’s head of education, in a news release. “At the same time, I hope visitors will recognize James Tissot for the complex, relentlessly hard working and deeply fascinating artist that he was — unapologetic in his commitment to a personal artistic vision.”

“Prophets, Priests and Queens” is open to the public free of charge. An audio guide for the exhibition, featuring the insights of biblical scholars and art historians, is also available on the BYU Museum of Art app, available for Android and Apple. 

Additionally, the museum has created a simplified, digital version of the exhibition, allowing those unable to visit the museum in person to be inspired by these artworks as well. Additional details on the exhibition are also available on the museum’s website at moa.byu.edu.

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