New BYU Exhibit Depicts Christ’s Words and Deeds

Contributed By Jason Swensen, Church News staff writer

  • 30 January 2015

Our Savior Subject to His Parents in Nazareth by 19th-century English artist John Rogers Herbert is included in the BYU exhibition In Word and Deed.  Photo courtesy of BYU Museum of Art.

Article Highlights

  • The recently opened In Word and Deed exhibit displays art that captures the teachings and actions of Christ.
  • The exhibit, which showcases five centuries of religious images, is expected to be on display for the next 18 months.

“We hope that visitors to the exhibition are willing to look at things in a new way.” —Sister Ashlee Whitaker, museum’s curator of religious art 

PROVO, UTAH

Today’s students of the gospel enjoy an almost endless cache of learning resources.

To wit: you can study the Book of Mormon on a smartphone as you cross-reference general conference talks on a tablet while listening to a live radio broadcast of the Tabernacle Choir.

The Internet, of course, offers infinite access to sacred writings and Church instructional aids. And even if the lights go out and the batteries die, one can still pull the family scriptures from the shelf and find inspiration in the published words of the prophets.

There was a time, centuries ago, where many had no choice but to learn the lessons of the gospel through art. Illiterate or unschooled worshippers had limited access to printed materials. So artistic depictions of the divine—found in paintings and sculpture—were essential in teaching the mission of Jesus Christ and His teachings.

Technology may have forever changed how people study the gospel, but Christ-themed artwork retains its power to teach and inspire.

A recently opened exhibition at BYU’s Museum of Art entitled In Word and Deed introduces patrons to five centuries of religious images. The paintings and sculptures included in the exhibition are drawn from a variety of Western artistic traditions and periods.

“Art is part of our spiritual heritage as Christians,” said Ashlee Whitaker, the museum’s curator of religious art.

Many of the depictions of Christ and His prophets that are found in the exhibit look a bit different than what Latter-day Saints are likely accustomed to viewing. But each work is rooted in faith and testimony.

“We hope that visitors to the exhibition are willing to look at things in a new way,” said Sister Whitaker.

Each of the works included capture either the teachings (the “word”) or actions (the “deed”) of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Most belong to BYU’s permanent collection.

Located on the museum’s main floor, In Word and Deed is expected to be on display for the next 18 months.

Hiram Power's sculpture Ideal Christ is located near the entrance to the BYU Museum of Art exhibition In Word and Deed. Photo by Jason Swensen.

Title panel from the BYU Museum of Art exhibition In Word and Deed. Photo by Jason Swensen.

Adoration of the Shepherds by French baroque artist Eustache Le Sueur is an anchoring work in the BYU exhibition In Word and Deed. Photo courtesy of BYU Museum of Art.