Archive for the Tampere Cathedral Category

Hugo Simberg, Dark Optimist

Posted in 19th Century, Hugo Simberg, Tampere Cathedral on May 15, 2011 by babylonbaroque

It is one of those rare cloudy , drizzly days here in the City of Angels; on my “desktop” sits Simberg’s Garden of Death , I felt today may be a good day to explore this Finnish master.

Simberg, best known for his themes of Death, the Devil, and Youth, seems to grapple with notions concerning  mortality, the very  joy of breathing, and the ever present specter of decay. Although I at  times feel uncomfortable with his very young and very nude young boys, they may very simply depict Innocence. I must remember to look at his painting through the prism of his culture.

What is very apparent is the wit in which he depicts themes that in less capable hands would have resorted to mere macabre cliche.

Garden of Death


oil on canvas

Ateneum Art Museum, Helsinki

Peasant and Death at the Gates of Heaven and Hell


Two watercolors glued on canvas

Finnish National Gallery

Self Portrait


b. 24th of June 1873

d. 12th July 1917

From the following  1896 photo with his sister Blenda (which he snapped himself with a time release camera)  I sense a charming joy that he seems unable to contain. That joy resurfaces time and again with his impish Devils and goofy depictions of somber Death.

Hugo and Blenda Simberg


They really are both too adorable, love her cap.

Devil by the Pot



Finnish National Gallery

In 1904 he receives the commission to decorate the interior of the Evangelical Lutheran Saint John’s Church , the Garden of Death will appear as a fresco, more subtle, but just as delightful and just as haunting.

Garden of Death



Tampere Cathedral, Finland

It is within this sacred space we see Simberg further explore his themes of Death and Youth. His imagery is fresh and new, yet harkens to traditional church decoration. His Garden of Death, not unlike medieval depiction of the Final Judgement, the difference with Simberg’s work is you smile as you shudder.

The Garland of Life frieze stands in sharp contrast to his flower culling skeletons.

Garland of Life



One would assume the boys we see in his frieze decoration are inspired by his early photography of young boys. These are the images that cause me to pause with discomfort.

Guido, Fish Boy


Whatever truth lies behind the images, innocent or tainted, the frieze is indeed spectacular.

The ceiling decoration recalls to this author the great Dragon motif of Brighton Pavilion.

Snake Fresco



For a tour of the interior, please check out the following clip, the quality is quite poor, but gives a good sense of the relationship to the work and the architecture, which is surprisingly conventional. 

Tampere Cathedral /St John’s Church

completed 1907

Simberg is best known for his painting the Wounded Angel, but he created a large body of work that is well worth examining.

Wounded Angel


oil on canvas

Ateneum Art Museum, Helsinki

Dance on the Quay




Syksy I


Syksy II


I find inspiration in Simberg’s work, I hope to research his life more deeply; my cursory exploration has unearthed scant information.

Until then, I sign off with this final image, one I enjoy immensely, as I have a great fondness for peacock decorated fabric, puppets AND starlings, what more can one ask for?



If I have unintentionally screwed up spelling of titles, location, etc., please pardon my ignorance and indicate where I have erred.

Have a marvelous sunday, the clouds have broken in LA, I will now go out for a quick run.

Take care, 

Babylon Baroque