The Thorvaldsens Museum Archives

The Remote, Isolated Church - The challenge to church history by the painters of the Golden Age

  • Jørgen I. Jensen, arkivet.thorvaldsensmuseum.dk, 1994
  • This is a re-publication of the article: Jørgen I. Jensen: ‘The Remote, Isolated Church – The challenge to church history by the painters of the Golden Age’, in: Meddelelser fra Thorvaldsens Museum (Communications from the Thorvaldsens Museum) p. 1994, p. 149-158.
    For a presentation of the article in its original appearance in Danish, please see this facsimile scan.

The placing and interpretation of church buildings in the paintings of Danish Golden Age artists is of great importance for an understanding of the symbolic place occupied by the church in the Danish mental universe not merely in the 19th century, but also today. Like Turner and Constable, Danish Golden Age painters show a church situated on the horizon of the landscape, a remote and secluded church that is not an integral part of civilization as in 18th century paintings, but isolated as a symbol in itself, a spiritual reality that only half belongs to this world. In landscape paintings by Johan Thomas Lundbye, P. C. Skovgaard and Vilhelm Marstrand the church is seen at such a great distance that one cannot see a road leading up to it. It is a church, so to say, without access.

This is parallelled in pictures of church interiors by artists like Christen Købke and Jørgen Roed, Heinrich Hansen and Dankvart Dreyer. Here the church is seen as remote in time, the old church, the church as the representative of the past or of history. The artists never depict a Sunday service or other common forms of religious practice; most often they show us people looking at the church as if it were a monument, or in special situations, such as a funeral or a Christmas service.

In this way Danish Golden Age paintings of the church reflect the great change in the general view of the church that took place in the last century but which – outside theological and church circles – is still valid today: the church is indispensable as a national symbol, but whether one ever enters it or has any particular religious feeling in connection with it is something concealed and private.

Last updated 11.05.2017