A Mormon Image: C.C.A. Christiansen

Since blogs seem to thrive on regular features, I have decided to start one here at T&S. Because my father is an art historian and a curator at the Museum of Church History and Art, I have always been interested in the images and art that Mormonism has produced. Thus, I will begin regularlly posting samples of it to this blog, along with a little bit of commentary. I begin with C.C.A. Christiansen

This painting depicts the arrest of Mormon leaders by the Missouri mob. It was painted by C.C.A. Christiansen, a 19th-century Danish convert to the Church. C.C.A. studied art at the National Art Academy in Copenhagen, Denmark, where he consistently failed his figure drawing classes. After pulling a hand cart to Utah he became obsessed with telling the story of Mormonism, forcing him to fill his paintings with the somewhat niave figures you can see in this image. This picture was part of a panorama show that he would take around to settlements in Utah telling the early history of the Church. Note, that C.C.A. very deliberately depicts the “mob” in military uniforms. The point was to remind Mormons that the persecution they had suffered was not the result of random vigalantes, but rather was organized and executed by officers of the state. C.C.A. Christiansen died in 1912.

4 comments for “A Mormon Image: C.C.A. Christiansen

  1. Greg
    December 2, 2003 at 8:09 pm

    Thanks for the post, Nate. My eyes are immediately drawn to the brightly colored animals at the far right of the painting. My first impression (not being able to see very them very well) was that they are pigs encircling some other animal — a kind of visual metaphor for the mob. But looking closer they may be white dogs, which could represent both purity and faithfulness, which are in tumult and scattering as a result of the threatening mob. Could someone with a larger monitor, or someone who has seen this live, help me figure out the symbology of the painting?

  2. December 2, 2003 at 9:35 pm

    Greg, I had the same reaction. They are almost certainly pigs. What you may not be able to see clearly is the black pig right behind the foremost white pig. So, we have three white pigs with one black pig intermingled. It does not appear to me that the white pigs are encircling the black pig.

    Is the man standing in the middle pointing at the pigs or at the Mormon leaders? And the mob — are they going after the leaders only, or also after the pigs? The mob members in the foreground seem to be headed for the pigs. Finally, the pigs are scattering. Could they represent the members of the Church? Nate, any thoughts on this?

  3. Nate
    December 2, 2003 at 10:38 pm

    I have no idea if there is any symbolism to this. However, C.C.A. frequently showed these paintings to old-timers who were actually present at the events he was depicting. They would say, “Actually it was such and such a way.” C.C.A. would then get out his paints and paint in the new details or correct the error. A person who was actually present at the arrest may have simply told him there were pigs there…

  4. Matt Evans
    December 5, 2003 at 2:04 am

    It’s hard for me to imagine that the pigs were painted as an afterthought, and even harder that they were painted because someone corrected the artist by saying he’d forgotten the three white pigs and one black pig on the opposite side of the trees.

    Given the composition of the picture, especially with the clearing on the right side of the stand of trees, I suspect he incorporated the pigs from the beginning. There’s no other reason to have all of the people on the left half of the painting.

    What symbolism he intended by white pigs, I don’t know.

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