Artistic Integrity & Painting The Face Of Jesus

Most “Jesuses” I see in visual arts are meek and sweet, with long hair and a beard. Depicted in strange and even unnatural poses with awkwardly folded fingers, and sometimes “he” is pretty much effeminate. Well, this is not how I would imagine the Son of God and the Savior of mankind.

Apollo Belvedere, c. 120–140 CE (Wikimedia)

In the first AD centuries the image of Jesus Christ was absolutely different from how we would imagine him today. In the early ages of Christianity Jesus was depicted as a cheerful young man with short curly hair and no beard.

In that time, the dominant ideology in arts was the one by the Roman Empire – strong and victorious, young and athletic. So, the early Christians probably adopted the image of Apollo to create a positive and strong image of God’s Son.

Pain, blood, sufferings came into art in the Middle ages, along with the “aging” and wise Jesus who was tortured on the cross and whose hair and beard have grown. Remember also the Turin shroud? – It’s also the Middle ages.

Resurrection of Jesus. China (Catholic University Beijing, China)

Can it be true that the early Christians didn’t want to follow someone who is constantly suffering and in pain but wanted to believe someone who can give them hope and a bright future?

The image of Jesus with long hair emerges somewhere around 300 AD but was “officially” established only around the 6th century in the Eastern church and much later in the Western church.

In different cultures Jesus usually has ethnic characteristics of the predominant ethnicity in that culture, like this Asian Jesus in the image of the resurrection.

While I was searching for a model to pose as Jesus for one my paintings, I realised that I do have a problem with what I want that model to be? How should he look like? What is his age, physics, hair, beard, skin tone… – This was the first of the tasks that I have not yet solved.

As next came also the realisation that… it’s not that I’m not ready to paint Jesus on canvas but I’m definitely not ready to paint him badly. And I am not talking about the painting techniques. I am talking about my own standards and morals. If I am to put Jesus in oils on canvas then it has to be an image which represents Jesus first of all for myself.

As a result, I started working (I had to) on a painting where Jesus is the main character and I am still working on it but honestly I am doing everything but his face… Unfortunately, in two weeks I have to finish that painting. Anxious…

Dimitri Ross