A recently opened, biblical-themed exhibit at the Museum of Church History and Art shifts visitors across space and time into 17th-century Holland.
A prominent table at the center of the exhibit is covered in ornate cloth with a scattering of apples and a pair of candlesticks each an item of daily life that would likely be found in Amsterdam homes of the period. But it's the dozens of etchings lining the walls of the museum gallery that conjure the image of a Dutch Old Master enlisting equal parts faith and talent to craft remarkable tributes to the life of Christ and other biblical figures.
"Rembrandt: The Biblical Etchings" a collection of 46 etchings depicting dramatic moments from the Bible is believed to be the largest gathering of Rembrandt van Rijn's religiously inspired etchings ever brought together in one place.
"It's a collection any major museum of art would love to have," said Elder Marlin K. Jensen, a Seventy who was recently called as the Church's historian and recorder.
The exhibit opened May 14 and will be on display through Dec. 11. Rembrandt's treasures add to an already rich line-up of exhibits at the museum, including the ongoing historical exhibit celebrating the 200th anniversary of Joseph Smith's birth and the popular children's/family history display "You Have a Family Tree."
While previewing the exhibit with the local media, Elder Jensen spoke of Rembrandt's dedication to things spiritual despite living in a period with few patrons of religious art. "Rembrandt was a deeply religious man. He was very devoted to the Bible."
Visitors will recognize the biblical images found in each etching. The common characters depicted with the Savior in several pieces are not idealized. Many, instead, seem old, fragile, unkempt or poor. Curators say Rembrandt focused on the meaning of the biblical story, rather than the details of the scene.
Also evident is the artist's unmistakable Dutch point of view.
"These prints are compelling, in part, because of the people and the setting," said Robert Davis, the museum's senior art curator. "Rembrandt's Roman soldiers at the crucifixion are Dutch peasants, and Mary holding the baby Jesus is a Dutch woman sitting at the window of a typical 17th century home in Amsterdam."
Despite little private demand for religious art during Rembrandt's life, about a third of his work is devoted to Bible subjects. Etchings in the museum's new exhibit include figures from the Old Testament, including Abraham and Isaac, Joseph the dreamer, David and Goliath. Still, the display is anchored by Rembrandt's depictions of the Christ throughout His mortal ministry.
Seventeen of the exhibit's etchings are owned by the museum. The remainder were loaned by a private LDS collector and Brigham Young University's Museum of Art.
"Rembrandt: The Biblical Etchings" can be seen at the Museum of Church History and Art on weekdays from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Saturdays, Sundays and most holidays from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. The museum will be open on Memorial Day, May 30, from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.
The museum is located at 45 N. West Temple in Salt Lake City, west of Temple Square. Admission is free.
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