Religious Affects and Female Subjects in the Altarpieces of the Finnish Artist Alexandra Frosterus-Såltin
A Case Study of the Jepua Altarpiece ‘Christ Appearing to Mary Magdalene’ (1906)
Keywords:affect, Alexandra Frosterus-Såltin, art history, Christianity, emotion, fin-de-siècle, Finland, iconography, religious art, women artists, women’s history
Before the mid-nineteenth century there were few subjects in the altarpiece tradition of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland in which the central figures accompanying Christ were female. Seldom used or new motifs involving female characters now emerged behind the altar. Most of the altarpieces with central women figures were painted in Finland at the turn of the twentieth century by the artist Alexandra Frosterus-Såltin (1837–1916).
In the nineteenth century Frosterus-Såltin was the only artist in Finland who realized the motif of ‘Christ Appearing to Mary Magdalene’ in her altarpieces. In her final representation of the theme, the altarpiece in the church of the Finnish Jepua commune, she chose an unusual approach to the motif. My interest in the subject lies in the motif’s affective nature – the ways in which altarpieces in general have been actively used to evoke feelings.
Moreover, I consider the influence that Alexandra Frosterus-Såltin, a significant agent in Finnish sacral art, had on consolidating the position of women’s agency in the Finnish altarpiece tradition. I examine the motif in relation to the cultural and political atmosphere of the era, especially the changing gender roles and the understanding of women’s social agency as the women’s movement emerged.
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