Rev. Bror Erickson
Ok, so it wasn’t a bushel that Pastor Steve Olson was looking through, but a Janitor’s closet in 2007 when he stumbled upon the painting “Christus Consolator” that is now on permanent display at The Minneapolis Institute of Arts. A curious find indeed, could this really happen in small town Dassel, MN? Pastor Olson was just looking at different ways the church could expand its Sunday School program as he cleaned up the closet and noticed this a stack of posters in the corner, underneath them was an old deteriorated painting of Jesus, a light of compassion and a face of mercy upon life’s downtrodden in the darkness, and a curious signature, “Ary Scheffer.”
Pr. Olson had a feeling he was looking at an original after googling the name Ary Scheffer. But how could such a famous artist for the 19th century French royal court find its way to a janitor’s closet, when its sister once graced the Lutheran Chapel of Princess Mecklenburg-Schwerin in the palace of Versailles? Van Gogh himself was known to have kept a second rate copy of this painting among his most treasured possessions! This was the skepticism, Pastor Olson met with wherever he turned in the art world trying to find someone who might know what to do with it, where to go to get it authenticated, maybe restored.
Ary Scheffer was inspired to paint “Christus Consolator” by the words of Christ in Luke 4:18. A paraphrase of this verse is inscribed on the frame of the primary version now found in Amsterdam’s Historical Museum. It reads: “I have come to heal those who are brokenhearted and to announce to the prisoners their deliverance; to liberate those who are crushed by their chains.” It was the subject matter of the compassion of Christ on a slave that caught the attention of the prominent Bostonian abolitionist and champion of the poor, William Story Bullard who would have visited Ary’s studio in 1851. It changed hands a couple of times after that before Pastor Nordling acquired it as a pastor in Connecticut, before taking a call to serve in Dassel, MN in 1929. When he died in 1931 the painting was left as a gift to Gethsemane Lutheran Church, but after years of deterioration due to less than ideal climate conditions the painting was taken down and left in the janitor’s closet only to be discovered by Pastor Olson decades later.
When Pastor Olson finally prevailed over the skepticism of the art world to look at the painting appraiser, Patrick Noon’s jaw dropped. The skepticism and wariness of a two hour drive from the cultured city of Minneapolis to the boonies of Dassel disappeared as he recognized that here he was beholding an icon of Western and Christian culture that had inspired the sympathies of Christians around the world to put an end to the slave trade, and have compassion on their fellow man as Christ showed mercy to the world with his death and resurrection. Here, hiding in a janitor’s closet, had been a sublime sermon in paint, a gospel light that needed to shine.
Today, those who are interested can visit the Minneapolis Institute of Art and see this wonderful painting once hiding in a janitor’s closet but now shining for all to see. Patrick Noon who authenticated the painting has written many articles on the painting one of the best can be found here. It was during Holy Week of 2009 Pastor Olson was invited for the unveiling and overwhelmed at the opportunity to share the gospel with worldwide media explaining, “sometimes we have treasures hidden in a closet and have forgotten they were there, this could not be more true for us than the gospel as depicted in this painting that we too often take for granted.”
Pastor Bror Erickson is pastor at Zion Lutheran Church, Farmington NM.