In Low Church Devotion, Adolph Tidemand depicts a historical scene from recent Norwegian history. Fifty years previously the lay preacher Hans Nielsen Hauge (1771–1820) had travelled about the country and evangelized on farms. The Conventicle Ordinance of 1741 forbade laymen from holding edifying assemblies, and Hauge was arrested and fined several times, even as he laid the foundation for a new, Pietist movement in Norway.
Inspired by Hauge’s work, Tidemand has depicted the preacher in a traditional openhearth dwelling (or røykstue), standing on a stool in the golden mean of the composition. The word of God is symbolized by the book the preacher holds in front of his chest. He is speaking to a mixed congregation of the old and the young, women and men. The smoke from the stove gives the daylight streaming in from the smoke hole in the roof an atmospheric effect. The light varies in intensity from one person to the next, showing the effect of the word on each individual – from remorse and anguish to reassured contemplation. The warm flames of the stove seen in the background beneath the preacher correspond to his ardent dedication. The slanted roof and the positioning of the figures give the painting a pyramidal composition.
Tidemand used both Norwegian and German models for this painting, while the interior and its props were taken from his many study trips around Norway.
Low Church Devotion became Tidemand’s breakthrough painting in 1848. It was purchased by the Städtische Galerie in Düsseldorf, the artist’s main city of residence since 1837. The National Museum’s version is a replica by Tidemand of this first painting, and the National Museum also owns a replica from 1852 that was commissioned and purchased directly from the artist.
Text: Mai Britt Guleng
From "Highlights. Art from Antiquity to 1945", Nasjonalmuseet 2014, ISBN 978-82-8154-088-0