Bonad or bonader is a type of folk art once produced in large amounts in southern Sweden in the regions of Dalarna and Småland. At first bonad were paintings on textiles meant to imitate tapestries and the wall hangings of the elite, but in the late 18th century they were produced increasingly as paintings on paper. They were hung on the upper portion of the cottage wall often in rows of friezes that surrounded the entire interior. Multiple narratives, usually religious, would be depicted comic-book style on these papers. The artists of these bonader were usually local, and thus every region had its own school with a distinctive visual style and palette. However, some aspects were universal, such as the relatively static stock poses, the highly stylized background, and the depiction of these supposedly religious figures in contemporary 18th-century bourgeois dress.
Since most bonad were hung in common rooms which served as the scene of meals and family gatherings, it is appropriate that this particular bonad depicts the Parable of the Banquet recounted in the books of Matthew and Luke. The imagery follows the version told in Luke 14:15-24 wherein Jesus recounts the story of a man who prepares an enormous feast and sends a servant out to tell those invited to come. However, each of the invited guests that the servant encounters refuses to attend. We see two of the guests here. The one on the left refuses because he had just bought a field and wanted to inspect it, the one on the right because he just bought some oxen and wanted them put to work immediately. On another fragment in the collection, the servant confronts a third guest who insists that he cannot attend because he is getting married. This fragment also shows another religious scene, possibly the Annunciation.
The story finishes when the man, enraged that none of guests could come, instructs him to fill the banquet with all the vagrants he could find on the street and to make sure none of the invited guests be allowed in. The message, of course, was that those given a chance to go to the Kingdom of Heaven (the banquet) should not refuse by being occupied only with worldly concerns. In other words, don’t ever be too busy for God. For a person banqueting in the room decorated with this paper, it would have been a very sobering reminder to be always religious. The simple style and stock, repeated figures would have allowed this paper to convey its message easily, emphasizing the educational qualities most bonad had.
Nicholas Lopes is a student in the History of Design & Curatorial Studies graduate program at the Cooper Hewitt, and is a Master’s Fellow in the Wallcoverings Department.
Image of Swedish interior and much background information comes from Lillian D. MacBrayne, “Southern Swedish Painted Bonader,” Art Institute of Chicago Museum Studies 7 (1972): 85-122.