The Mormon behind the Bloomberg cover

Published: Friday, July 13 2012 3:00 p.m. MDT

When Bloomberg Businessweek used a sketch of an angel appearing to Joseph Smith as the cover for its July 16 issue about the LDS Church finances, it inadvertently chose an image tied to the sacrifices and faith of a Mormon pioneer artist.

C.C.A. Christensen was born in Copenhagen in 1831, a year after Joseph Smith Jr. founded The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. By the time Christensen was baptized a member, Joseph Smith had already been killed by a mob.

Christensen had trained at the Royal Academy of Art in Copenhagen where students were encouraged to paint realistic, gritty images of Danish life in attempt to preserve their culture against German expansionism

"C.C.A. Christensen goes through this academy and then he joins the LDS Church and takes off his Danish hat and puts on his Mormon hat, but his artistic mindset stays the same," said Richard Oman, former curator of the LDS Church History Museum. "'Let's see. Why don't we do Mormon history? Why don't we do Mormon people?' And that is what he did. 'And why don't we do it for a purpose so people remember who they are?'"

Christensen immigrated to Utah — pulling his possessions 1,300 miles across the plains in a handcart. He settled in central Utah in Sanpete Valley. He become best know for creating the "Mormon Panorama," a 175-foot-long scroll of multiple paintings depicting LDS Church history — including the appearance of heavenly visitors to Joseph Smith. In his lectures presented throughout the West, the scroll would be rolled to reveal one painting at a time — an early version of a slide show or PowerPoint presentation.

In Denmark, the artistic goal was so people would remember they were not German. In the case of Mormons, Christensen was reminding people of those who went before them and sacrificed so much, Oman said. "It is a reminder of the sacred roots of the kingdom, and the sacrifices of those who followed in order to inspire the present," he said. "That was his goal."

The goal of Bloomberg Businessweek was somewhat different.

"We looked into paintings of what is referred to as the First Vision, which is when Joseph Smith went into the woods and had a revelation, and since that moment founded Mormonism," Robert Vargas, the art director, said in a Bloomberg Businessweek video. "So in researching the paintings, there were many sorts of iterations of this. It's been done various different ways."

Two of the cover mock-ups used paintings of the First Vision. In these versions, cartoon text balloons have Jesus Christ commanding Joseph Smith to "open a Polynesian theme park which shalleth be largely exempt from tax" and God the Father telling him "… and then thou shalt build a shopping mall" and "invest in Burger King."

Another mock-up uses a Christensen painting from his "Mormon Panorama" paintings. This one was not of the First Vision, as Vargas apparently supposes, but of the Angel Moroni delivering the gold plates of the Book of Mormon to Joseph Smith. It may be that Vargas assumed that any painting of Joseph Smith receiving a vision in the woods was part of the First Vision.

The cover version they settled upon was also not of the First Vision, but of another heavenly appearance that occurred almost a decade later, when Joseph Smith was translating the Book of Mormon. The official LDS Church website, LDS.org, describes the context: "Joseph Smith translated the gold plates into English, and Oliver Cowdery wrote it down. While translating, they learned about baptism for the remission of sins. On May 15, 1829, they went into the woods to pray, to ask Heavenly Father about baptism. As they prayed, an angel from heaven appeared in a cloud of light. He laid his hands on Joseph and Oliver and ordained them."

The angel identified himself as John the Baptist.

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