Encounters - Finnish faith 12.5. - 30.12.2017

Encounters - Finnish faith

Christian faith came to Finland with merchants and missionaries both from the East (Russia) and from the West (Scandinavia). However, the consolidation of ecclesiastical conditions in the sparsely populated Finland was slow. There have been found from cemeteries Christian objects, such as crosses and icons, since the early 900s, but Christianity did not sweep away completely. Different beliefs, creatures and spells were persisted until the 1900s, especially in Northern and Eastern Finland.

In Karelia folklore remained strong and the mythical worldview was also called the Kalevala culture. People were baptized as members of the Church, and folk religion was united with Chirstianity. The illiterate people mixed pagan traditions with religious beliefs. The stories about Jesus and Väinämöinen (Epic hero) or Ukko (the god of sky and weather) and Christian God lived alongside. The Virgin Mary and others saints were regarded as protectors, with whom it was necessary to be in good relations. Born in Kuopio Sigfrid August Keinänen (1841-1914) represented the coexistence of Christianity and Kalevala's religion in his untitled painting. In the foreground, the epic hero Väinämöinen gropes the hand of Aino while the priest baptizes the child into Christianity, and the Virgin Mary carries her arms around Jesus-child.

Western art and art history are based precisely on the religious image. The church has been a customer and a sponsor of art for centuries. The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland has organized individual artwork competitions since the 1890s. The actual art competitions began to be organized only after the wars in 1950s. As a customer, the parishes defined the limits for artistic expression, such as the subject. For instance, in the exhibition "Encounters" there are presented the drafts of altarpieces of Eero Järnefelt (1863-1937) and Vilho Sjöström (1873-1944).

Fine art was harnessed for the needs of customers for a long period of time until the receiving of autonomy at the beginning of 1800s. The artists started making art for art, not for customers (l'art pour l'art). The modern forms of expression of independent art have gradually been introduced to domestic churches since the mid 1900s. Brushstrokes became bolder and more colorful. Topics and themes were taken from the Holy Bible, however the artistic expressions became more free. One example of this type of freedom is presented in the exhibition. It is the the draft of the altarpiece of Louis Sparren (1863-1964), where the theme of Calvary (Christ on the Cross) has been adapted to the Finnish winter landscape in the connection with the sad evacuee.

Maria Wiik (1853-1928): Madonna, oil on canvas, 19th century. Photo: RIISA / Henna Hietainen.

Faith in Finnish society is seen as a personal matter, an existentialism, in which each individual interprets the Holy Bible as related or even unrelated to his own life. Christian art no longer consider a general public opinion and therefore it is not intended for commercial sales. Few artists market themselves as creators of Christian art, and there is not enough buyers for these masterpieces. However, through the time, artists expressed their interest to religion without thoughts that the painting can be ordered by a church or a parish. For instance, Essi Renvall (1911-1979) has dedicted the author Marja-Liisa Vartio's inner faith by the thorn, the Mother of God, and the indicative female character. Maria Viik (1853-1928) on the contrary has faded away all the Christian elements from the woman's portrait. Nevertheless, the description, the light and the white cloth wrapped around the head of the woman immediately convey the thoughts of the Virgin Mary, even though the name of the painting is not Madonna.

Regardless of the worldview, every Finn can recognize church buildings in a city image. The buildings rised above the general silhouette of the city stand out immediately. Everyone knows that under these rooftops with crosses faith is culminated, even though a person does not visit the church. Outside the church doors there is the world where each individual carries invisibly his worldview. The exhibition "Encounters" represents not only internal and external faith life, churches' interior and exterior, but also crossing borders from the birth to the death of each person.

No matter what Finnish faith means to different people, the Western Art could not born without religious images.

The exhibition "Encounters - Finnish faith" challenges to consider what the Finnish faith means for you.