The Life Of Christ by Emil Nolde (1912)

The Life of Christ (center panel) by Emil Nolde, the Nolde Foundation, Seebüll, Germany

“The imaginings of the boy I once was, who sat engrossed in the Bible on long winter evenings, were reawakened. When I read, I saw pictures: the richest Middle Eastern fantasies. They constantly flew around in my mind’s eye until much, much later the grown man and artist painted and painted them, as if inspired by a dream.”

RickArt has always been man’s effort to express the inexpressible.  Its roots are deep in the imago Dei with which man is created, and often surfaces only through anguish or longing.  Emil Nolde’s talent was evident in his earliest drawings, but his masterpieces seemed to have emerged from a time of great difficulty when he struggled not only with the grave illness of his wife but also a crisis of faith.

As Terry Glaspey explains in 75 Masterpieces Every Christian Should Know :

There are few religious paintings—and even fewer religious painters—among the modern artists who emerged as the center of the art world at the turn of the twentieth century, but paintings on spiritual themes were a central focus of Emil Nolde’s artistic life. Between 1909 and 1951 he devoted fifty-five paintings to sacred or biblical themes. Perhaps his masterpiece is his altarpiece, The Life of Christ, a work that makes use of very traditional imagery but depicts the sacred stories in a thoroughly modern manner.

Modeling his work on the famous altarpieces created by artists such as Jan van Eyck, Emil Nolde fashioned his own personal statement of faith with a collection of nine paintings referred to jointly as The Life of Christ. This altarpiece included eight scenes of the birth, preaching, betrayal, and resurrection of Jesus arranged around a larger central image of the crucifixion. One of his unmistakable influences was clearly the famous Isenheim Altarpiece by Mattais Gruenwald, which Nolde’s central painting so stirringly echoes.

Has a difficult time in your life ever resulted in an inexpressible manifestation of God?

John 1: 1-5

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.

D I G  D E E P E R

Emil Nolde

(1867–1956). German Expressionist painter, printmaker, and watercolorist Emil Nolde was known for his violent religious works and his foreboding landscapes. He was also a prolific graphic artist especially noted for the stark black and white effect that he employed in crudely incised woodcuts.

Born as Emil Hansen to a peasant family on August 7, 1867, in Nolde, near Bocholt, Germany, the youthful Nolde made his living as a wood-carver. He was able to study art formally only when some of his early works were reproduced and sold as postcards. He started painting in a superficially Impressionistic style in Paris and then in 1906 was invited to join Die Brücke, an association of Dresden-based Expressionist artists who admired his “storm of color.” But Nolde, a solitary and intuitive painter, dissociated himself from that tightly knit group after a year and a half.

Fervently religious and racked by a sense of sin, Nolde created such works as Dance Around the Golden Calf (1910) and In the Port of Alexandria from the series depicting The Legend of St. Maria Aegyptica (1912), in which the erotic frenzy of the figures and the demonic, masklike faces are rendered with deliberately crude draftsmanship and dissonant colors. In the Doubting Thomas from the nine-part polyptych The Life of Christ (1911–12), the relief of Nolde’s own religious doubts may be seen in the quiet awe of St. Thomas as he is confronted with Jesus’ wounds. During 1913 and 1914Nolde was a member of an ethnological expedition that reached the East Indies. There he was impressed with the power of unsophisticated belief, as is evident in his lithograph Dancer (1913).

Back in Europe, Nolde led an increasingly reclusive life on the Baltic coast of Germany, where his harsh environment led to such brooding works as his Marsh Landscape (1916), in which the low horizon, dominated by dark clouds, creates a majestic sense of space. Landscapes done after 1916 were generally of a cooler tonality than his early works, but his masterful realizations of flowers retain the brilliant colors of his earlier works.

Although Nolde was an early advocate of Germany’s National Socialist Party, when the Nazis came to power, they declared his work “decadent” and forbade him to paint. After World War II he resumed painting but often merely reworked older themes. His last self-portrait (1947), although still vigorous, reveals the disillusioned withdrawal of the artist in his 80th year. Nolde died on April 15, 1956, in Seebüll, near Niebüll, West Germany.

Sources & Resources

“Nolde, Emil,” Compton’s Encyclopedia (Chicago, IL: Compton’s Encyclopedia, 2015).

Evens, Jonathan. “Emil Nolde: Inner Religious Feeling.” Between (blog). March 7, 2012.

Juneau-Lafond, Jean-David. “Emile Nolde,” The Art Tribune. November 11, 2008.

Selz, Peter. Emil Nolde. New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1963.

Terry Glaspey, 75 Masterpieces Every Christian Should Know: The Fascinating Stories behind Great Works of Art, Literature, Music, and Film (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2015).


Terry Glaspey

Terry Glaspey

I’m really looking forward to discussing my book, “75 Masterpieces Every Christian Should Know,” with the members of Literary Life Book Club. I can’t wait to hear your thoughts and perspectives on some of the art, music, and literature you’ll discover in the book. I’m interested in how it speaks to you in your life and the ways it inspires, challenges, or maybe even annoys you! I’ll try to share some “deleted scenes” stuff I had to leave out and will tell a few stories about what I experienced while doing the writing and research. Hope that many of you can join us as we look at he stories behind some truly wonderful art.

Let’s explore together!


Join the discussion with Terry on Facebook HERE

Terry Glaspey is a writer, an editor, a creative mentor, and someone who finds various forms of art—painting, films, novels, poetry, and music—to be some of the places where he most deeply connects with God.

He has a master’s degree in history from the University of Oregon (Go Ducks!), as well as undergraduate degrees emphasizing counseling and pastoral studies.

He has written over a dozen books, including 75 Masterpieces Every Christian Should Know:  Fascinating Stories Behind Great Art, Music, Literature, and Film, Not a Tame Lion: The Spiritual Legacy of C.S. Lewis, The Prayers of Jane Austen, 25 Keys to Life-Changing Prayer, Bible Basics for Everyone, and others.

Terry enjoys writing and speaking about a variety of topics including creativity and spirituality, the artistic heritage of the Christian faith, the writing of C.S. Lewis, and creative approaches to apologetics.

He serves on the board of directors of the Society to Explore and Record Church History and is listed in Who’s Who in America Terry has been the recipient of a number of awards, including a distinguished alumni award and the Advanced Speakers and Writers Editor of the Year award.

Terry has two daughters and lives in Eugene, Oregon.

Dig Deeper at


Some of the greatest painters, musicians, architects, writers, filmmakers, and poets have taken their inspiration from their faith and impacted millions of people with their stunning creations. Now readers can discover the stories behind seventy-five of these masterpieces and the artists who created them. From the art of the Roman catacombs to Rembrandt to Makoto Fujimura; from Gregorian Chant to Bach to U2; from John Bunyan and John Donne to Flannery O’Connor and Frederick Buechner; this book unveils the rich and varied artistic heritage left by believers who were masters at their craft.

Terry Glaspey, 75 Masterpieces Every Christian Should Know: The Fascinating Stories behind Great Works of Art, Literature, Music, and Film (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2015).

Order it HERE today.

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Rick Wilcox

Rick is voraciously interested in the holistic transformation of people individually and in an organizational context - enabled by technology, educated continuously through multi-channel systems and informed by the wisdom of history's greatest thinkers. He is a Ph.D. student at Faulkner University, focusing on the appearance of the Logos in English Literature. He earned a Master of Arts in Christian Education at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and a Master of Science in Management from Sam Houston State University. His undergraduate studies earned a BA with double majors in Sociology and Theology from Houston Baptist University. Rick is an ordained minister who leads the Parenting Teens Adult Community at Faith Bible Church in The Woodlands Texas.