Origin of conventional artistic representation of Jesus

If I show you a portrait of “Jesus,” you’ll probably know who it’s supposed to be. He need not be hanging from a cross or preaching from a hilltop. What matters is that he has generally recognized features: Soft shoulder-length brown hair; brown beard; high, broad forehead; large brown eyes; long straight nose, neither “Jewish” nor “Roman”; pointed chin; longish face, total impression midway between ectomorph and mesomorph. See the portraits on this site: http://picturesofjesus4you.com/gallery1portraits.html They all look pretty much the same.

Where did this come from? I’m sure Jesus never sat for a portrait or bust; Jews of his time would have regarded that as a sin (no graven images). I’ve seen images of Christ dating from the Roman Empire and they show a square-jawed, clean-shaven Roman Christ. When and how did the above description become accepted as the “correct” one? (At least, in the U.S., and, from church art I’ve seen, most of Europe and Latin America; I don’t know how they portray Jesus in Russia or Ethiopia.)

Some scholars say that it came from the Eastern Roman (a.k.a. Byzantine) Empire. Some of the early portraits of Christ bear a striking resemblance to portraits of Zeus from the pagan days. Portraits of “Christ, King of the Universe”, Christos Pantocratos (apologies if I mangled the spelling) often show him in the same pose as the statue of Zeus in the temple at Olympia.

A man with the incomparable name of Jaroslav Pelikan wrote a book that talks about this very thing. It’s been a while since I read it, but I remember it as being good.

BrainGlutton, I realize this isn’t exactly the answer you are looking for but to a certain extent it can be attributed to a guy named Warner Sallman. He painted a portrait of Jesus called “The Head of Christ”. On the link you provided it is in the top row right. There are also several others on that page by him as well, notably the first two on the second row and all three on the last row. I seem to remember when he died reading his obituary somewhere and they made the claim that “The Head of Christ” portrait was largely responsible for how most Americans imagined Jesus looked due to its widespread distribution in churches after WWII.

Of course, where did artists like Mr. Sallman get their idea of what Jesus looked like is closer to what you seem to really be asking. I remember asking a similar question as a child in church. The answer I got was very simplistic but here it is: “Well all the men had long hair and beards in the old days because they didn’t have barber shops and no one had invented the razor yet.” Yeah, I know that is pretty dumb but I wonder how much that did play into how artists chose to represent him. And of course, being The Son of God, he had to be rather handsome didn’t he?

Not the answer you were looking for but I thought this might be interesting to share.

Russia, being of the Orthodox faith, probably gets it’s Christ image by way of the Greek Orthodox Church. Something like this.

I was lead to believe an old image of Christ came from a depiction of Alexander The Great.

(First post, and folks may think Im breaking the first board rule, but I doubt anyones going to mistake his face should they meet him. So as to images…)

This has come up a couple of times before if you want to try a search. Early Christian versions (say, 5th c) don’t look like 9th c conventions but things get pretty standard after that with some spurious ‘verifications’ (miraculous images like the sudarium (2 of them, actually) or based on visions like St Gregory’s, the forged “Lenter to Lentullus”, etc.)

No . . . no resemblance. Alexander was too square-jawed. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alexander_the_great

I read once that the conventional image of Jesus comes from the (false and forged) Shroud of Turin – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shroud_of_turin. Some resemblance there.

Conventional appearance of Jesus in W Europe is older than the shroud of Turin.

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