What is the oldest painting/drawing of Jesus Christ we have?

I’m wondering about this because it is interesting and I also am trying to find out when he started being portrayed as “white”.

What is the oldest drawing/painting we have of Christ?

The earliest images of Jesus found in 3rd Century Roman catacombs show him as a “good shepherd” or as a clean shaven youth (similar to other Roman images). His ethnicity is basically shown as “Roman,” which, I guess would be “white,” but these were intended to be liturgical, mythical images, not representative portaits from life.

In this link you can view a gallery of images and icons which are laid out chronologically from the earliest images on.

Interesting link, Dio. Unfortunately, the first picture that they show is from the Shroud of Turin which is a fake. I know that you know this but it had to be said.

Since the page shows it with a group of other pieces of art, it’s simply treating it also as art, right? It’s not claiming it’s anything supernatural, that I can tell.

Yes, of course it’s a fake, but it’s still an image of Jesus. The problem is that the page puts the Shroud in its gallery but that it misplaces it as the “first” image instead of putting it (and the Mandylion, for that matter) instead of the Middle Ages where it belongs.

That should be the problem is NOT that the Shroud is included in the gallery but that it’s misplaced chronologically.

I am trying to figure out where you are going with this. Jesus was a middle-eastern Jew which definitely = white in most people’s minds. A dark-haired, brown-eyed man with whitish skin is about the only conclusion one can draw. Art may not depict his skin as olive enough but it can’t be that far off.

Unfortunately, it can get pretty far off sometimes. One of my many complaints about the religion of my youth - how did a young Irish youth get to the middle east?

Back to the OP. It was a near universal practice in artistic depictions until comparatively “yesterday” for the artist to show the subject in the image of the current mode of looks and dress. No one tried to discover authentic historical information about the way people would have looked in the past. Doing so would have been practically impossible. At best they could have reproduced styles from ancient sculptures, but even those in Italy surrounded by them didn’t do so. They used what was to them modern dress.

It wasn’t that Jesus was depicted as “white;” it was that “whites” depicted Jesus.

You can make some complicated philosophical/socio-cultural arguments that they did so because the universality of Jesus who died to save everyone, but the simpler and better reason is that the artists painted what they and their audiences expected to see: themselves. That they depicted the Greek and Roman figures from myth in the same style makes this the more likely explanation.

The interesting question would be when and why historic realism became to be the expected default mode in western culture.

Heh. This, ca. 1965, was the bible of my childhood, and it was actually very well-done; some of the illustrations have stayed with me the rest of my life.

Pretty much everyone was depicted as olive-skinned and black-haired (and there were reddish-skinned Egyptians and black Africans too), even Mary, although her hair was a shade lighter than everyone else’s and her eyes were blue. But–Jesus was a total Nordic-looking blond, shining like the sun in a world of brunettes. I guess it was supposed to set him apart from everyone else and it sure worked.

FWIW, we spent very little time on the physical appearance of Jesus in parochial school, except once we were taught that he looked like the folks there now–light brown skin, thick black hair, and Caucausian if not literally very ‘white’.

The oldest image of Jesus that I know of is from the 1st half of the 3d century. Shows him with a donkey’s head, for what it’s worth (graffito from a building on the Palatine hill).
Oh, hey, it’s actually on that site-- it’s the first non-forged image on that page. That’s a little surprising that the same people who include the Turin shoud and the mandylion include it.

Yeah, this Childrens’ Bible is the source of a lot of controversy. I had this book as a kid. But we also had a big deluxe family bible that was illustrated with Renaissance paintings, a few of which showed Jesus as blond or red-haired.

What interests me is when he started to be depicted with long hair. From Dio’s link it seems to be c. 4th century. I recall reading that no Jew would have worn his hair long in Jesus’ day. Is that true?

Of course, it’s a given now. In the movies, etc Jesus has to have long hair, we’re so used to seeing him that way.

St. Paul, a Jew, wrote in 1 Corinthians 11:14: “Does not even nature itself teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a dishonor to him?”

A frieze on Rome’s Arch of Titus, erected after Jerusalem was captured in AD 70 to celebrate the victory, shows Jewish men with short hair taken into captivity.

I hate to come in here with no actual information, but I couldn’t resist sharing. I once posed this question to a worker at the art museum on campus, and she said, “Well, I know that we have a few from around 900 BC.” :confused: It turns out that she meant “AD,” but she sure confused me for a few moments.