Religious Art: “Jacob and the Angel”

rosawresThe strange state of Mormon art has recently been discussed here by Matt. Sometimes, to please our spiritual aesthetics, we have to go beyond the borders of the kingdom. I would like to start a “religious art” series here at BCC. Please share your favourite religious art (it doesn’t have to be Mormon) in the comments with a link to the picture, a description of the piece, and an explanation as to why you like it. I will then post them from time to time. It’ll make nice, light, weekend blogging.

The painting here is from Wayne Forte (1996) and is called “Jacob and the Angel.”

I love the story in Genesis 32. Jacob wrestles with an angel all night, dislocates his hip, and demands a blessing. (Rick Jepson’s Sunstone essay on “godwrestling” is worth a read on this topic.) This is Jacob’s jihad, a reminder of the holy struggle of faith. I think the angel was God, hence Jacob’s new name: Isra’-El. Forte’s bold, chunky piece — Jacob and the angel tightly squeezed on the frame — captures for me the muscularity of this vivid scene.


  1. Kevin Barney says:

    I agree that the angel was God, and have always been annoyed at the neo-orthodox insistence (a la Joseph Fielding Smith) that it was an angel only.

    I did a youth fireside once on “What Did Jesus Look Like?” riffing on the BYU Studies issue devoted to that question. I did a slide presentation with lots of art, mostly but not entirely derived from the BYU Studies roundtable. The kids loved it.

  2. Kevin Barney says:

    Oh, BTW, lately I’ve gotten into the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), Pride and other mixed martial arts contests, which are all the rage these days. Wrestling is just one aspect of these bouts. There is a live set of bouts tonight out of Las Vegas on Spike TV (starting at 8 central) if anyone is curious. Watching these personal wars puts the idea of wrestling with God in a whole new context.

  3. Elisabeth says:

    Kevin (#2)- if you’re a fan of wrestling for (though not necessarily with) the Lord, you might like the movie “Nacho Libre”.

  4. Kevin Barney says:

    I did enjoy it (figured I had to support Brother and Sister Hess). It got only mixed reviews, but I liked it quite a bit.

  5. Elisabeth says:

    My favorite piece of religious art is Michelangelo’s Pieta in St. Peter’s Basilica. I love how Michelangelo carved Mary to be so much bigger than Jesus – and how Mary is holding him on her lap. The symbolism of a woman with her child is striking. I remember standing in front of the glass for hours in complete rapture while my friend explored the Sistine Chapel. For your next vacation, save your pennies for a trip to Rome and read Irving Stone’s “The Agony and the Ecstasy”.

  6. Kevin Barney says:

    Oh, Elisabeth, that is gorgeous! I’ve never seen it before.

    How about Paul Gauguin, Le Christ au Jardin des Olives (1889)? The figure representing Christ is actually a self portrait.

    There’s also his Christmas Night (1896), which is the painting on the right at this link. This one is cool because it is such a different take on the Nativity.

  7. Elisabeth – that’s one of my favourites too. I’m trying to find a nice replica of it. Any ideas?

  8. I really like this idea Ronan and look forward to seeing the religious art that others have found meaningful. One of my favourite pieces is Marc Chagall’s Le Sacrifice d’Isaac. The entire collection of Chagall’s Le Message Biblique which focuses on the Old Testament can be found here. This is one of my favourite museums of all time.   Chagall said, “Will God or someone give me the power to breathe my sigh into my canvases, the sigh of prayer and sadness, the prayer of salvation, of rebirth?”.  For me, this painting captures that sigh.

  9. Kevin Barney says:

    Rebecca, here’s a reasonably priced reproduction of Pieta.

  10. Thanks Kevin! I thought though – since I’m going to be living in Austria for the next year, maybe I should hop into Italy and get one there?! :)

  11. I know it’s a fairly popular one among Mormons, but my favorite piece of religous art is Carl Bloch’s Christ Healing the Sick at Bethesda.

  12. Kris:

    Oh, that’s so lovely! Thank you. I have a larged framed print of Minerva Teichert’s “Look to the Children” (from 3rd Nephi). I never get tired of looking at it. Notice the girl in the center right, her face turned toward you. It’s hard to see on the computer, but she’s sporting a full, spirited grin. There are a lot of grimaces in religious art — she’s joyful.

  13. Deborah, Minerva Teichert’s paintings are marvels. I love this picture too, especially the angel wiping or washing the child’s face. My question: did the angel lick his/her thumb, apply and then wipe it off?

    Ronan, good post idea.

  14. Thomas Parkin says:

    I love David Linn, who happens to be a Mormon.


  15. Excellent idea. An answer to prayer. I enjoyed the BYU Studies issue (39:3 in 2000) scratching the surface of LDS art. That’s where I discovered one of my favorites by Walter Rane:

    Two questions:
    1) Can anyone suggest non-white religious art (e.g., black Jesus)?
    2) Has anyone tried to paint Mother in Heaven? I need a a picture for my son’s quiet book. :-)

  16. Kevin Barney says:

    Thomas, David Linn and I co-wrote a little piece for Insights, the FARMS newsletter, entitled “Let Us Stain Our Swords No More,” which compares the Anti-Nephi-Lehies to the Theban Legion.

  17. I do not know what this word “favourite” means, but I’ll gladly mention one of my favorites. It is here.

    I think it’s definitely Mormon. Aside from the fact that it’s Friberg, it involves a Mormon worldview that I like. It takes our notions of religion outside of the specifically religious settings of scripture and religious history and reminds us that there’s more in God’s hand than the world of scripture.

  18. Thomas Parkin says:


    Berry insteresting!

    I enjoyed reading the bit, scanned some of your other writings and am looking forward to reading them at length.

    I have some things to say about David’s art, which I hope to get a chance to post later this afternoon.

    What a small Mormonish world it can turn out to be. Barney is family name for me, too. That’s my paternal grandmother’s maiden name.


  19. Sorry to come late to the game, but I have always been moved by this unfinished painting by the Russian Realist, N. N. Ge, entitled Golgotha. Christ is human, isolated, determined, despondent, and central in it. So there’s that.

  20. Here’s one that I like: Maynard Dixon’s The Forgotten Man. Compare Matt. 25:35-40.

  21. Antonio Parr says:

    Here is a fabulous painting by Robert Wagner that is featured prominently in the oustanding publication, “Image a Journal of The Arts and Religion”:

    For very fine work by an up-and-coming LDS artist, check out J. Kirk Richards’ work:

    Finally, for the most beloved (and prolific!) folk artist in the history of the United States, check out the work of Howard Finster:

  22. hmm….I posted some links to other Jacob wrestling paintings last night….and now my post is gone. Que paso?

  23. Rick, I hacen’t seen it. Try reposting.

  24. Here’s a good post for your blog

    Lori Lund Stake Relief Society President defends Mormon beliefs and Mit Romney on Nation Wide Radio show

    need iTunes to listen

    Thought you might like. thanks for your newsletter

    Mark Herre
    Cell Phone: (801) 921-3625
    Fax: (413) 375-4010

  25. Rodin’s ‘hands’

  26. Here’s another view of ‘hands’

  27. I am fifty-one years old. That is my excuse for not knowing how to provide a link like the rest of y’all do. I can give a LONG link to a painting I love. It’s called “Peace Be Still” by Arnold Frieberg (is that how you spell his last name?) I do look at it–miniaturized on the computer, because I can’t afford the real thing–when I need some peace. If anyone knows my husband, suggest to him that this would make a good Christmas gift. Here’s the LONG link:

  28. Brad Kramer says:

    Has anyone seen Kirk Richards’s artwork? He hasn’t painted any temples, but his stuff is pretty astonishing for a Mormon artist.

    Check out his archive here:

    and I’m a particular fan of these likenesses of Jesus:

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