"The Minister Laestadius preaching" by François Auguste Biard, a member of the 1838 French research expedition on which Laestadius served as an expert on local botany and Sámi mythology.
I've excerpted Heith's article below, but follow the link to enjoy the entire thing; she is readable by us nonacademics (unlike many of her peers) and always interesting. Create a free account at Academia.edu to follow her there.
From Situatedness and Diversity: Representations of Lars Levi Laestadius and Laestadianism:
Today, Biard’s painting belongs to Nordnorsk Kunstmuseum in Tromsø, where it is displayed with other more or less exotified images of the Sámi and the northern landscape. In the painting, Lars Levi Laestadius wears a top hat of the kind worn by the higher social classes at the time the painting was made. However, it is unlikely that Laestadius would have worn a hat like that when preaching to the Sámi and Finnish-speaking people in traditional Sámi land. It is well known that Laestadius lived in great simplicity, condemning worldliness, using vernacular language in his preaching, which was seen as vulgar by the social elite. For example, Laestadius frequently used expressions like ‘the devil’s piss’ for alcohol (Heith 2009: 342–361).4 Described with terminology from postcolonial and indigenous studies, Biard’s painting presents an outsider’s view (Smith 2008: 60; Ashcroft, Griffiths & Tiffin 2007: 154–158) of Laestadius, the Sámi and the northern landscape.
Laestadius engaged in a form of acculturation when developing a preaching style adapted to the socio-cultural background of his audience. As mentioned previously, ‘unworldliness’ and ‘simplicity’ are positive values in a Laestadian way of life. One effect of Laestadianism was the expanding catalogues of sins, which laymen preachers created in order to control people, a practice influenced by Laestadius himself. There are numerous accounts of how deviation from a traditional way of dressing in a simple fashion was condemned as worldly and sinful. Another element of exoticisation is the landscape of Biard’s painting. The dramatic snow formations surrounding Laestadius and the group of Sámi he is preaching to hardly exist in the northern parts of Norway, which Biard visited (Aaserud 2005: 43). Biard’s painting combines sketches of people he made on different locations with an imagined northern landscape.
The imaginative qualities of Biard’s painting reflect the context of its production. In 1841, it was exhibited at the Salon in Paris.5 Biard’s painting clearly represents an outsider’s view of the Sámi, produced with a Parisian audience in mind, and as such exemplifies a form of colonising practice, which involves othering, exotification and marginalisation of groups of people in distant locations. Laestadius’ role in this representation is that of a person complicit with colonialism, a gentleman whose clothing signals that he is affiliated to the colonial centre, speaking to a group of natives.There's a lot to chew on here but I want to say that I love the painting's aesthetics. Gorgeous, unreal snow drifts, like frosting on a cake, that lead the eye around the canvas. The contrast between the snow (notoriously difficult to paint) and gritty humans. The folks in the far lavvu, keeping their distance. The lone figure on skis, late to church.
And I smile to think that when I was a child, I thought Laestadius lived in the time of Christ. In the OALC he was referred to as a prophet, so I must have figured John the Prophet had a buddy named Lars. (Needless to say, church history was not a subject in my confirmation class.)
What is your response to the painting?