The Many Faces of Jesus Christ

By on November 30, 2023

Over the last two thousand years, many artists have painted what they thought the face of Jesus Christ may have looked like. In our secular culture, portraits of Christ by contemporary artists, such as Andy Warhol, have become iconic. Images of Jesus Christ are Archetypal, and in South America, there are paintings that portray Christ as a Marxist revolutionary.

The “Shroud of Turin” is an example of an image of Christ given the name “The Holy Face of Jesus.” Some Christians believe the image formed in the Shroud of Turin is a miracle.

The “Veil of Veronica” is similar; however, it has been depicted by several different artists, one of them by El Greco that currently resides in the Museo del Prado in Madrid.

A popular iconic motif in the Middle Ages, the Veil of Veronica stems from a story regarding a woman who offered her veil to Jesus on his way to Calvary. The image of the face of Christ imprinted itself on the material after he wiped his brow. The Bible, however, does not record such an event occurred. The name “Veronica” may have developed over time due to a wordplay of ‘vera icona’ meaning ‘true icon.’

In his autobiographical work, “Now and Then,” Frederick Buechner recalls being asked to “supply a text to accompany a beautifully reproduced set of color photographs of various attempts over the centuries to depict the likeness of Christ.” The author describes the visual content as “rich and varied,” including “primitive African carvings, Renaissance paintings, medieval tapestries and vestments, a scrimshaw crucifixion, a head of Jesus painted on the slatted overhead door of a garage.” Some of them, Buechner writes, were “deeply moving, some of them tasteless and terrible, some of them fascinatingly both.”

The depiction of Jesus Christ in pictorial form dates back to early Christian art and was the norm within the ante-Nicene period. It took several centuries to reach a conventional standardized form for his physical appearance, which has remained largely stable since that time. Most images of Jesus have in common a number of characteristics which are now almost universally associated with Jesus.

The conventional image of a fully bearded Jesus with long hair emerged around 300 CE. Portraying the face of Christ this way did not become established until the sixth century and much later in the West. Christ’s face has been recognizable and distinguished from other figures around him by using artistic devices such as a cruciform halo.

Images of Jesus Christ tend to show ethnic characteristics similar to those of the cultural origin of the visual artist. In an ethnic setting, there is a desire to see the face of God in our own image and not the property of a particular race or culture.


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