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Thrivent Collection of Religious Art has been exploring Christian tradition since 1982

Thrivent Art Gallery in Minneapolis, Minnesota
Thrivent Art Gallery, Minneapolis, Minnesota

This year marks the 40th anniversary of The Thrivent Collection of Religious Art. It was formed with the intention to preserve history and be a shared resource for the community. This unique collection is a distinctive expression of Thrivent’s character and our commitment to supporting the arts, culture, education and the community.

Thrivent believes that inspiring generosity helps humanity thrive, making the most of what we’ve been given and living lives full of meaning and gratitude. Humanity flourishes through the creation of art and sharing that art with others.

As a membership-owned fraternal organization that serves Christians, we recognize the powerful connection between art and religion. This connection can be found through centuries of artists creating works to inspire, question and forge relationships.

Unique among corporate collections, the artworks in the Thrivent Collection explore the Christian tradition and span nine centuries, from the 13th century to present day. A wide array of original works on paper by some of the most recognized artists in Western art history are included, from Albrecht Dürer and Rembrandt van Rijn to Édouard Manet, Grace Hartigan, John Wilson and Elizabeth Catlett. Established in 1982, this collection has received local, national and global recognition for its excellence, and for its exclusive focus on religious themes and subjects.

Visitors to Thrivent’s Minneapolis Corporate Center can explore our skyway level gallery. With public hours and free admission, we offer guided tours and talks focused on the thematic, rotating exhibitions throughout the year.

Rembrandt van Rijn (Dutch, 1606-1669) Christ Preaching (La Petite Tombe) Etching, 1652

Engaging through art: Rembrandt’s Christ Preaching

One of the most powerful aspects of art and the Thrivent Collection is its ability to bring people together. This spirit of community building is reflected through special events and opportunities to gather around the collection. Loans from the collection have traveled across the United States, reaching numerous communities. We are continuously creating a variety of in-person and virtual engagement programs so the collection can reach even more individuals across the country and the world.

One of the collection’s most special objects showcases a community gathered together: Rembrandt van Rijn’s 1652 etching, Christ Preaching.

With raised hands and captivating presence, Jesus Christ draws a crowd of listeners. Christ Preaching (La Petite Tombe) presents a universal picture of Christ’s ministry. One of Rembrandt’s most celebrated prints, this is also one of the most recognized images in Western art history. The scene is not meant to represent one specific biblical episode; rather, it portrays the broader theme of Christ’s teachings and time on earth.

The inclusion of children, elderly people and diverse social and economic groups of the time signals a reference to the Gospel of Matthew, specifically the parables in chapters 18 and 19, in which Christ praises and blesses the humility of children and the poor. Here, Christ is engaging directly with the crowd, with humanity. The mood is contemplative and simultaneously active, pulsing with energy.

Rembrandt’s religious images prove fascinating as insightful theological interpretations and expressions of emotion. Scriptural stories account for a significant portion of his work; he stands out as one of the greatest interpreters of religious subject matter of Western civilization.

His gifts as an artist are many, but his ability to convey feeling and thought through gesture and human expression is particularly notable. This instinctive understanding of humanity, combined with Rembrandt’s technical mastery and innovation, are compelling reasons he is considered one of the finest artists of all time.

Each person in the crowd is shown in their unique expression of body and spirit. Some listen intently, others snooze or let thoughts wander. A mother holds her infant while her young son draws in the dirt with his finger.

Christ appears to look at this distracted little boy, glancing down toward him as He preaches, with gentle, strong hands raised in blessing. The child was playing with a spinning toy top and now he writes in the dirt: perhaps a suggestion of the idle distraction of the broader society, or the spark of activation in his young mind upon hearing the words spoken.

Rembrandt uses shadow and light brilliantly here: Christ is accentuated by his lighter clothing and open space beneath him, while the crowd and its surroundings contribute a mixture of tone and shadow.

Divine light radiating from Christ’s halo is emphasized by a pillar immediately behind. These visual contrasts underscore the contrasts and complementarity of Christ’s divinity amid the world’s humanity.

Although made visually distinctive, Christ appears wholly a part of this crowd. We as the viewers, too, are onlookers.

Rembrandt gives the sense of Christ’s full inclusion within the community while also emphasizing His singular nature. In experiencing Rembrandt’s expression of Christ’s preaching in this image, we have the opportunity to contemplate the Gospel in a lively, immersive way.

Art helps us to keep open minds, think big and stay curious. Supporting these historical expressions of culture helps humanity thrive and keeps our communities vibrant.