Christ in Gethsemane by Harry Anderson

Christ in Gethsemane

This painting depicts Christ’s atonement in the Garden of Gethsemane.  Matthew writes, “And he went a little further, and fell on his face, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt.”1  Christ’s face is raised to heaven and His hands are clasped in prayer, signifying that in this hour of need He turned to His Father.

Luke writes, “And there appeared an angel unto him from heaven, strengthening him.”2  A hint of an angelic presence can be seen to the right of the Savior, in the wood of the tree.  The artist originally painted Christ kneeling there, but he covered that image and painted the Savior farther to the left.  He left traces of the original figure kneeling in the Savior’s same position to remind viewers that the Savior was strengthened by an angel during the atonement.

The word “Gethsemane” means “the place where the oil is pressed.”  The olive tree symbolizes long life and renewal, and its oil represents purity and healing.  Israelite kings were anointed with olive oil, and the olive branch is still considered a symbol of peace today.  Christ is painted here against the rugged outline of an olive tree, reminding the viewer that He is the King of Heaven who will make resurrection and eternal life possible for all men, and that He will return “with healing in His wings.”3

Starting in 1973, the Ensign sponsored a program to provide religious art for LDS members at a low cost.    The Gospel-in-Art Program invited members to “display in your home artwork that says something about your most cherished convictions.”4   The first painting they offered was Harry Anderson’s painting Christ in Gethsemane, and more than 40,000 copies were sold.

Further reading: “The Atonement”

  1.  Matthew 26:29
  2. Luke 22:43
  3. Malachi 4:2
  4. Museum of Church History and Art,  Images of Faith: Art of the Latter-day Saints (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1995)  97