Oil on Canvas: 76" x 101"
A group of Vikings from a Danish village have gathered to hear Priest Anskar preach his Christian faith. The French Benedictine missionary bravely stands in front of his pagan and heathen audience offering them salvation through the word of God. Standing on a boulder, he towers over them with his arms raised with passion – his right preaching, the left holding a staff baring a crucifix. His posture displays resolute faith while his expression reveals some fear and uncertainty. His companion stands reverently beside him with hands gathered. The Viking group has assembled along a beaten path by the shore. Anskar has most likely positioned himself on the road leading to the village and shore. He preaches to young and old, male and female – most notably the stern, protective Chieftain of the village dressed in yellow. The Chieftain stands firm, his powerful arms folded against his broad chest, and listens to the stranger’s words of damnation and salvation. He is dressed in a long, yellow woolen shirt with cloth trousers bundled by long leather laces from his shoes. He dawns battle gear with his silver and gold helmet and a sword, with a gold filigreed handle, secured on his side by a thick leather belt. Noticeable too are the two children standing between the pagan crowd and Christian missionaries. While the young girl pays no attention to the priest, the boy seems to be listening – perhaps imitating the elder men of the group by standing tall and firmly grasping his staff. Other distinct figures include: the old man being comforted by the beautiful young woman in a deep blue dress, the young girl wearing a brown dress (her back turned to the viewer) with finitely detailed braids, and the sneering man on the right walking away, fist raised, cursing the missionaries. Some of the crowd appears to be interested in what Anskar is preaching, yet others – mainly the men on both ends of the crowd, either leave in skepticism or mockingly talking amongst themselves.
This is an historical piece on a grand scale. There are twenty seven figures, twenty six of which have fully detailed faces, and seventeen of which have fully detailed figures – an extraordinary feat. All anatomical positioning and posture, clothing and armor is researched and executed with great detail. Anskar’s gathering of men, women and children wear vibrant green, yellow, red, brown and blue clothing dyed with mineral and vegetable oils. The wool and linen fabrics are embroidered and layered with exactness to the body’s natural postures. The style is recurring, but every ensemble is unique to each figure. The two missionaries are dressed very plainly in blue hooded robes with humble, yet eye-catching, white belted ropes and brown prayer beads. By depicting most of the Viking men with battle gear (i.e. helmets, bows and arrows, and swords), Tornøe has offered the observer a chance to feel the fear and anxiety the priests must have felt embarking on this dangerous journey to convert the warring, terrorizing Vikings. Yet, he has also offered a beautiful palette and setting, going against typical depictions of such heathen groups. The background is landscaped by a steep, grassy hill topped with wild trees and protruding boulders. Behind the crowd are rocky shores and a mountainous horizon.
Artist: Wenzel Ulrik Tornøe (1844-1907)
*Wenzel Tornøe is perhaps one of the most well known exhibited Charlottenborg Palace artists of that period. He was known for his poignant and anecdotal portraiture and genre pieces. Having studied under Carl H. Bloch (whose is considered the finest religious, genre and historical painter of his time), Tornøe surpassed many his peers in skill, technique and style. His works have sold at many prestigious auction houses around the world, including Sotheby’s, and many other works adorn the walls of private collectors, museums, and European castles.