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Thursday, October 11, 2007

Arnold Friberg's Abinadi painting

A link to the entire article from which this post is taken is at right. Here is a clip from the article, giving the details we discussed in class as well as additional information on the subject after whom Abinadi is modeled in Friberg's famous painting. Following the information from the article is detail from my files, labeled, "Taped interview with Arnold Friberg, June 3, 1986." If anyone can find a link to the entire interview, please let me know.

Abinadi before King Noah (Mosiah 11–13). "I composed it the opposite of the well-known principle in art, the 'principle of the Jewel.' . . . It is like a jewel setting—the central figure is the most interesting part. You use the strongest color and the strongest and most vibrant contrast around the center of interest, and then it goes into surrounding neutrals. I reversed it here for the purposes of this picture. Against the simplicity of Abinadi in his grey prison garb was the opulence of the court. The richness of the colors set off this simple, humble man.

"And the jaguars—I spent days studying them at the zoo. There were several reasons for putting them in. One thing, it gives a royal touch to have the animals chained to the throne. They are not leopards; they are jaguars, which are more compact animals than leopards. Jaguars are found only in Central and South America, so they sort of help define the geographical setting. Animals are very sensitive to supernatural power. . . . The jaguars are snarling because they sense the awesome power that is surrounding Abinadi.

"Then there are the priests of King Noah. I had somewhat in mind the man back here at the right might be young Alma. He was mightily impressed by the courageous testimony of Abinadi, so much so that he became a prophet."

This is the artist's favorite painting of the entire set. The figure of Abinadi held special meaning for Arnold Friberg. When his family was converted in 1921 in Arizona through the missionary efforts of a Brother Altop, Arnold was seven years old. He was baptized the next year and remembers fondly the missionary teaching his family received from Brother Altop. As Friberg was at work painting this picture, Brother Altop visited him in Salt Lake City. Lean and muscular from years of working as a carpenter, the revered friend was immediately put to work posing as Abinadi.

Additional information from my files:

"I show the guards being thrown back by this great power surrounding Abinadi. They couldn't touch him. In John 18:6 it says,'As soon then as he had said unto them, I am he, they went backward, and fell to the ground.' This is commonly forgotten. People usually treat Christ as though he were a victim. I think that is why there are so many pictures of him looking gaunt and cadaver-looking, because 'this poor fellow was dragged through the streets - a victim.' But actually he was the one in charge at all times in Gethsemane. They didn't know who he was. The guards came to get him, and he said, 'Who are you looking for?'
"They said 'Jesus of Nazareth.'
"He said 'I am he.' And the force of his words hurled the guards to the ground. That is commonly forgotten. People act as if the guards just came out and took him. They couldn't have taken him. I think it is a tremendous story. This is where I got the idea. This same force surrounded Abinadi, that they could not touch him until he finished his message that he had to give.

"The elements of design (the steps, etc.) are all based on ancient American design.

"One detail you might be interested in is the green feathers on Kind Noah's crown. They are from the Quetzl bird. They have these long green feathers. They are the nationial bird of Guatemala. The reason they are the national bird is that they cannot live in captivity. You cannot keep a Quetzl bird in the zoo, he will die. It is the symbol of liberty. He dies if he is not free. Often in the ancient American sculptures you will see the Quetzl feathers used in the head-dress, so I used them in the king's head-dress.

"It is a very powerful subject and I tried to show the dignity of this siimple man. He has no jewelry compared to the court which is filled with opulence. He stands up in his simple dignity with a certain emanation of light showing the power that is in him."

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