1 of 3
Courtesy Anthony Christensen
"Christ in the House of Mary and Martha," an oil on canvas created by artist Cornelis Kruseman in 1853.

SALT LAKE CITY — Two historic paintings depicting images of Jesus Christ that carry the spirit of the Reformation were recently rediscovered in a Los Angeles storage unit and brought to Utah.

One is titled "Christ in the House of Mary and Martha," and the other is "Christ Blessing the Children." Both oil on canvas paintings, created by Dutch artist Cornelius Kruseman in the 1850s, are encased in elegant frames, stand about 10 feet tall and span more than 6 feet wide.

As many celebrate Monday as Reformation Day, marking the 500th anniversary of religious reformation that led to wider access to the Bible, there are ways to connect the paintings to that significant event, said Micah Christensen, who holds a doctorate in art history from the University of London.

"How do you make the Dutch history important to people who live in Utah or Mormons living all over the world?" Christensen said. "I think you tie into religious persecution, a place of refuge and the imagery of a people who were persecuted, and who then saw this as a way to fight back positively. This is the way they showed their values at a time when they felt like their values could not be shared openly."

The Netherlands had a tradition of religious tolerance stemming back to the Reformation. As the political leader of the Netherlands, William II, the Prince of Orange, created a refuge for followers of Martin Luther and William Tyndale, and that "spirit of the Reformation" continued with his descendants until the 19th century, Christensen said.

Kruseman (1797-1858) was born into occupied Holland, when the empire of France discouraged any role of religion in public life. After the fall of Napoleon Bonaparte, there was a Reformation revival in the Netherlands that led to the commissioning of the four paintings, along with a reprinting of the Luther Bible.

Kruseman, famous in his time as the "Raphael of the North," had connections to prominent artists like Bertel Thorvaldsen, the Danish sculptor of the Christus. He was commissioned to do the four biblical paintings portraying the life of Christ that would hang in the great hall of Castle Zeist, once the home of Reformation champion William II.

Of the four paintings, one became part of a collection at Amsterdam's Rijksmuseum while the other three were presumed lost or destroyed.

Two of those missing paintings were recently found in the Los Angeles storage unit of a religious art collector and acquired by Christensen of Anthony's Fine Art & Antiques in Salt Lake City and promptly sold to another collector. For now they are on display at Anthony's Fine Art & Antiques (401 East 200 South) until a permanent home is found.

Christensen said both paintings convey a message of Christian love.

"The thing that is really striking to me … in both cases Christ is dealing with people that the disciples didn't think were important," Christensen said. "I think it's pretty clear that we are supposed to be like the disciples on the border of each of these images, looking at this and thinking these are people who Christ stopped and talked to and blessed, and he did it emphatically against the other priorities that were going on at that time."

It turns out the Rijksmuseum is planning a major retrospective on Kruseman and is interested in featuring the two paintings, Christensen said.

Christensen hopes the two paintings will inform Utahns and Mormons culturally while providing new images of Christ to consider. Several prominent artists have already come to see and study the paintings, Christensen said.

"We are slowly getting more versions of Christ out there. Some are historical and some are by contemporary artists," Christensen said. "If these were infused into our culture a little bit, I think that would be a positive thing."

For more on the paintings and how to see them, visit anthonysfineart.com.