(b. 1873, Hamina, d. 1917, Ähtäri)

Frieze on the gallery (detail)

Cathedral, Tampere

At the end of the 1890s, Simberg began studying the technique of fresco painting. He had already attempted to create the effect of fresco in his earlier tempera paintings. This interest was fuelled by the opportunity to produce murals for the recently constructed Tampere Cathedral. In order to learn more about fresco painting, he travelled to Italy in 1897, where he was particularly inspired by early Renaissance frescoes.

Between 1905 and 1906, Simberg frescoed Tampere Cathedral, designed in the National Romantic style by Lars Sonck and built between 1902 and 1907. The focus of the decoration is an ornamental frieze running around the front of the gallery. Young, naked, androgynous-looking boys were shown carrying a garland displaying thorns as well as roses, an interpretation of life's many-faceted journey and how to relate to the questions of eternity and death. Other parts of the cathedral decoration also deal with the themes of sin and redemption. The serpent in Paradise with an apple in its mouth adorns the central dome of the vaulted ceiling, while a pattern of white wings provides the decorative feature of the vaults themselves. Simberg also produced most of the stained glass, which completes the decoration on such themes as the Horsemen of the Apocalypse, the Burning Bush and Pelican.

The paintings aroused considerable adverse criticism in their time. Of particular controversy was Simberg's painting of a winged serpent on a red background in the highest point of the ceiling, which some contemporaries interpreted as a symbol of sin and corruption.

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