The Changing Image of Jesus

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The Changing Image of Jesus

Since The New Testament provided no physical description of Jesus Christ, Christians have over time used artistic images of Jesus as a unifying symbol for the Christian faith. However, the images seem to vary over time depending on the era they were used or painted. These images have thus been used to give a glimpse of people’s belief of how Jesus Christ looked like, for instance the shroud imprint and present day forensic reconstructions (Kleiner 46). The images are however not attempts to depict how Jesus looked like but symbolic representations of the painter’s own time, culture and perception of Christ.

The first Christian depictions of Jesus were symbolic of a lamb or fish while the earliest image being a fresco of the healing of the paralytic at Dura-Europos (Harries 98). Moreover, the catacombs at Rome have provided chronological accounts of the images of Jesus Christ from a unique perspective from which an analysis of the attitude to art and image can be made. The earliest image of Jesus Christ, which is estimated to have been painted before 4 A.D shows a beardless young man with short, curly hair wearing a philosopher-like toga despite Jewish custom requiring men to have beards (Jensen 133).

Other accounts, such as the shroud of Turin depicts Jesus in a more esoteric image. He is shown as a middle-aged man with a brown to black hair, with a sorrowful and compassionate complexion. He is shown as a man who can cater for people’s needs. The Byzantine era evolved the image of Jesus to show a man who has dark, brown hair to the shoulder, a short beard, and regular facial features, with large brown, or blue eyes (Kleiner 102). This image shows the divinity of Christ through his massive and mysterious power as the artists tried to capture in painting His image.

They therefore added other spiritual elements to the image, for instance the halo. The Byzantine art used simplicity in crafting the image of Jesus Christ as shown by the long, narrow solemn face, focus on symbolism of the halo and the purple robe. The purple robe was used to signify honor and royalty (Harries 76). This kind of art emphasized the holiness and divinity of the Christ. It also shows the time’s cultural interpretation and belief of artwork’s structure to give Christ the honor and respect he deserves. The artwork also differs from the later periods based on societal ideals and the context of the events of each specific time (Jensen 127). 

During the Gothic era, vibrant colors were used in the image of Jesus with naturalism being applied as opposed to the Byzantine era. The face and body parts are more realistic than they had previously being depicted. The image is also shown to exude emotion since Christianity was getting mainstream and artists were being allowed to express their ideas about Jesus Christ publicly (Harries, 90). Leonardo Da Vinci also tried to depict Jesus as Salvator Mundi with an image mirroring the real world with a real sense of touch, which has thus given the present image sight and touch leading to mass acceptance of Jesus of physical beauty and grace. However, modern day image of Jesus differs slightly depending on the region, for instance in America He is portrayed as white, blond, and with blue eyes while in Europe He has a soft masculine image (Kleiner, 125).

Artists have thus used their culture and imagination to paint an image of Jesus that could be used as a symbol of Christianity and a unifying factor. Each artistic generation has had their

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