Jesus Christ, Iconography of
JESUS CHRIST, ICONOGRAPHY OF
The early Christians had images of Christ made for their own veneration despite the Biblical prohibition (Ex 20.4) against the making of images. Eusebius of Caesarea wrote that in his own day images of Christ and the Apostles going back to apostolic times still existed (Ecclesiatical History 7.18). According to Irenaeus (Adversus haereses 1.25.6), the heretical Gnostics and Carpocratians venerated or worshiped effigies of Jesus, Pythagoras, Plato, and Aristotle. An image of Jesus, together with those of Abraham and Orpheus, was venerated in the lararium of the Emperor Alexander Severus.
It is not possible to determine if any of these images were intended to represent the true likeness of Christ. However, one can assume that the anthropomorphic representation of Christ was not posterior to, but was either contemporary with, or even anterior to, the representation of Christ by symbols. This wound appears to be true even in the face of the opposition of Church Fathers such as Irenaeus, Eusebius, and Epiphanius to the making of such images. Also, the Council of Elvira (c. 315) had condemned the making of religious pictures (Picturas in ecclesia esse non debere, ne quod colitur et adorabitur in parietirus dipingatur ).
Physical Types. Each period created the type of Christ it desired, since neither the New Testament nor patristic literature provides a physical description of Jesus. In general, there are two types, one based on Ps 44 (45).3, "Fairer in beauty are you than the sons of men; grace is poured out upon your lips"; and the other on Is 53.2, "There is in him no stately bearing to make us look at him, nor appearance that would attract us to him." In the Acts of the Martyrs, which probably reflects a popular tradition, Christ always appears as youthful and beautiful (Acta Andr. et Matth. 33; Mart. Mt. 13).
From the very beginning, these two types were further divided into subcategories. The young, beardless Christ was represented as a lad with short, curly hair (sarcophagus, Musée Lapidaire, Arles, early 4th century; strigillated Christ, Peter sarcophagus, Lateran Museum, Rome, late Tetrarchian period, 300–310; clipeus sarcophagus, Lateran Museum), as a boy with long, curly hair (statuette of seated Christ, Museo Nazionale, Rome c. 360; Christ on a sarcophagus of Junius Bassus, Vatican Grotto), as an older but still youthful man with short, curly hair (mosaic of Christ between Archbishop Ecclesius and S. Vitale, Ravenna, 6th century), and as a youth with long hair (arcade sarcophagus, Lateran Museum, c. 350–360; Ascension on an ivory relief, National Museum, Munich, c. 400; mosaic of the Good Shepherd, Mausoleum of Galla Placidia, Ravenna, c. 440; mosaic of Christ and Apostles in the squinch of the baptistery, S. Lorenzo, Milan, 355–397).
The youthful types of the beardless Christ were derived from the image of the Good Shepherd, which was always represented as a youth according to the custom of entrusting boys with the task of tending sheep. This type was dominant in antiquity to the 5th century, in Ravenna to the 7th century. It occurs in representations of Christ as Orpheus, Christ as the Thaumaturge, and even in those of Christ as Teacher and Pantocrator. The image persisted in the West through the Ottonian period, after which it appeared only sporadically: mosaics, St. Mark's, Venice, end of the 13th century; Timoteo Viti (1467–1523), Art
Gallery, Brescia; Bernardino Luini (1470–1532), Ambrosian Gallery, Milan; Giovanni Antonio Boltraffio (1467–1516), Carrara Academy, Bergamo. An older but still beardless type appears in "The Redeemer" by ra phael (Municipal Art Gallery, Brescia). A heroic beardless Christ dominates the Last Judgment in the Sistine Chapel by michelangelo.
The bearded type of Christ appeared at the turn of the 4th century concurrently with the appearance of the historical representation of New Testament scenes and persons. Since the 5th century this has been the major mode of representation of Christ in both East and West, except in Ravenna and in the Carolingian and Ottonian West. In addition to the beard, the style of which changes from period to period, Christ wears long hair, parted in the middle. Although the Nazarenes did wear their hair long, in contrast to the Romans, it was not the intent of the artist to show an ethnic type of Christ. Rather, it was traditional for Prophets and angels, creatures more than human, to be represented as wearing the hair long; moreover, philosophers and teachers continued to wear their hair long, and even retained their beards, after the custom had gone out of existence. The aim was to invest the image of Christ with something of the transcendental.
The bearded type, in its turn, was subdivided into a full-bearded one and another wearing only cheek and chin beard, with the upper lip clean-shaven. The fully bearded type, which became typical in the East after the 8th century and also dominant in the West after the Ottonian period, was used originally for representations of Christ as the True Philosopher (polychrome fragment of a frieze sarcophagus, Museo Nazionale, Rome, c. 300), as the Miracle-Worker (Jona sarcophagus, Lateran Museum, end of 3d century), as Christ in Majesty or the Law-Giver (mosaic of Christ between SS. Cosmas and Damian, apse of SS. Cosmas and Damian, Rome, 6th century; sarcophagus fragment, Museum of S. Sebastiano, Rome,
c. 370), and as Pantocrator (Daphni, Greece, c. 1100; wall painting of Christ Blessing, Boiana, near Sofia, 1259).
The second type, which is rare, appears in the following works: a 5th-century mosaic of Traditio Legis, S. Costanza, Rome; Crucifixion fresco, S. Maria Antiqua, Rome, 8th century; Master of the Lyversberger Passion, "Jesus Crowned with Thorns," Cologne Art Gallery, 15th century; Hans Holbein the Elder (c. 1465–1524), "The Crucifixion," Augsburg Museum; Master of Mary's Life, "Crucifixion," Munich Art Gallery, 15th century; George Minne, wood engraving, "The Baptism of Christ," 20th century.
It has been suggested that these types of Christ were derived from pagan deities such as Zeus, Eros, Apollo, or Asklepios. But it is highly unlikely that the early Christians would have utilized these pagan types for the exemplification of Christ. There exists a legend of a painter who, having sought to depict an image of Christ according to a type of Zeus, was punished by having his hands withered by God (Theod. lect. 15). Moreover, the bearded and beardless types were not products of specific geographic areas of the Roman world representing ethnic types. The so-called Syrian and Semitic types of Christ were not developed in Syria and Palestine, and the contrasting youthful type was not a Western innovation; for the types of Christ did not depend so much on external influences as on the concept of Christ held in each period or area.
Thematic Types. The earliest representations, which have to do specifically with the theme of salvation and resurrection, depict Christ in a completely nonpersonalized manner; there are no distinctive traits of character or individuality in countenance or in the conformation of the body. Rather, images reflect a compromise between the classical ideal of physical beauty (kalos kagathos ) and the description in Ps 44 (45).3.
At this stage of the development of Christian society, when persecution was rife and there were forebodings of doom of the empire, the ordinary believer was profoundly concerned with the assurance of his own salvation and the provision of a basis for hope of a resurrection and eternal life. Christ was for him a symbol of salvation. Thus the various representations of Christ on the painted walls of the catacombs corresponded to those passages in the Bible and in the writings of the early Church Fathers where the hope of redemption is expressed (Ex 34.23,37.24; Is 40.11) Christ thus appears as a Good Shepherd as early as the 2d century, as Orpheus in the 3d century, and as the True Philosopher (Tertullian, Apol. 46–47). He might appear as Orpheus, since the story of the latter was considered analogous to that of the Good Shepherd. Orpheus, like Christ, had been able to charm with his music (redeem) the wild beasts (sinners, lost souls), and also, like Christ, to descend into Hades to redeem a soul incarcerated there.
As the Good Shepherd, Christ was represented wearing a tunica exomis and carrying a sheep on his shoulders or surrounded by sheep; as Orpheus he was dressed as a Phrygian; and as the True Philosopher, He wore at first, as Cynic philosopher, the pallium with breast and shoulder uncovered; but later, as a specifically Christian philosopher, a pallium that covered the entire body, and sandals. The portrait of the True Philosopher as Cynic corresponded to the description in Is 53.2.
As a result of the Christological controversies that took place from the 4th to the 7th century, a deliberate attempt was made to stress the human nature of Christ, if not the actual, historical Person. The task was difficult since neither the Gospels nor any other historical writings furnish a description of the real Christ. Descriptions of Christ, however, existed in legendary works. In the 8th century, John of Damascus described Jesus as being handsome and tall, with hair slightly curled, eyebrows very arched and meeting in the middle of the forehead; His face oval, complexion pale olive, and hair and beard the color of ripe corn. A 13th-century text, probably derived from a contemporary Greek source, is written in the form of a letter by Publius Lentulus, "president" of the people of Jerusalem, to Tiberius Caesar, in which Christ is described as tall, with fair long hair flowing down to the shoulders. "It is slightly crisp and curled, parted in the middle and falling on either side as in the custom of the Nazarenes. His cheeks are somewhat rosy, the nose and mouth are well shaped, the beard is thick and the color of a ripe hazel nut, like the hair it is short and parted in the middle." His eyes are blue, at times flashing with sudden fire. "No man has ever heard Him laugh but often men have seen Him weep…. He is as handsome as aman can be."
It is likely that the handsome images produced in the Gothic period, e.g., the Beau Dieu at Amiens and the Beau Christ at Rheims, are based on such a description as that in the letter of Lentulus, which had some currency during the period. St. Thomas Aquinas in his commentary on Psalm 44 (45) stated that Christ possessed physical beauty of the highest order. Finally, according to Syrian legends, Christ had black eyes and a black beard.
Acheiropoietic Images. There are several "acheiropoietai," or images made without the intervention of human hands; but from the existing evidence concerning them, these images no more correspond among themselves than do the descriptions that have come down. Perhaps the two most famous are the so-called Mandylion of Edessa, supposedly produced by Christ Himself for Abgar (preserved at S. Silvestro, Rome), and the veil of Veronica, supposedly an impress made by Christ Himself (preserved in the treasury of St. Peter's, Rome). Another legend relates that a portrait begun by St. Luke was completed by angels (now venerated at the chapel of the Sancta Sanctorum, Rome); there is also a portrait supposed to have been given by St. Peter to the Roman senator Pudens (exposed on Easter Sunday at S. Prassede, Rome).
A resolution to difficulties surrounding the acheiropoietic images can be found in the statement made by St. Augustine that "the image of Christ according to the flesh has been created and modified by countless conceptions, all varying. His true likeness is unknown to us" (Conf. ). St. Irenaeus also had said that "the physical features of Jesus are unknown." Moreover, the New Testament had declared specifically (2 Cor 5.16) that we no longer know Christ according to the flesh. In the 4th century a true portrait of Christ would have been unthinkable (Epiphanius, Panarion haereseon 27.6.9).
Majestas Domini. Christian artists of the 4th and 5th centuries sought to represent the majesty of Christ. In one book of the New Testament, the Revelation, they found an image of Christ more mysterious than that of either the
liturgy or the other books of the New Testament. In the Revelation the apparitions are closest to the ancient theophanies of Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel. Illustrated Apocalypses that appeared from the 5th century on offer a magnificent history of the majesty of Christ.
In the West the vision of the Lord surrounded by four winged creatures was detached from the total setting of the Apocalypse; it was made purely Christological and called Majestas Domini. In the 2d century, Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyons, saw in the central figure of Ezechiel's vision the Logos and in the tetramorphic cherubim the modes of operation of the Logos that were later fulfilled in the Apocalypse: "It is clear that the creator of the universe, the Logos, He who is seated on the cherubim, had delivered to us the Gospel under four forms" (Adversus haereses, Patrologia Graeca 7:1039). The four creatures resembling lion, ox, man, and eagle were generally interpreted as the four Evangelists. From Irenaeus the interpretation passed into the exegetical works of the Latin Church Fathers where it was available for the programming of artistic representations. According to the theologians of the Middle Ages, who called them sacramenta of Christ, they signified four aspects of His nature corresponding to the four principal moments of His earthly existence: Birth, Death, Resurrection, and Ascension. The
compact formula was expressed in a sermon on the Ascension by Honorius of Autun: Christus erat homo nascendo, vitulus moriendo, leo resurgendo, aquila ascendendo (Patrologia Latina, 172:956). The distich summed up epigrammatically Christ's earthly career from birth through death and resurrection to final divinization and reunion with the Godhead.
Though it originated in the East, the figure of Christ surrounded by the four living creatures was given definitive form in the Carolingian period. A representation of Christ in Majesty appeared in the Evangelistary of Gudohin (751–754, Autun Library); He is flanked by angels in a large central clipeus and surrounded by the symbols of the four Evangelists. In the art of the Carolingian renaissance the image of Christ was patterned after the youthful figure in the mosaics and sarcophagi of the early Christian period. He is represented in this manner in the Evangelistary of Godescalc (Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris), a masterpiece of apocalyptic art. In ivories of the same period the imperial figure of Christ is shown seated in the midst of the four winged creatures. The type was maintained in the Romanesque period, as in the apsidal fresco of S. Clemente de Tahull.
The Christ in Majesty of Western art was derived from the Byzantine Pantocrator. But whereas the Pantocrator was always represented as a bust at the top of cupolas within the church, the Majestas Domini shows Christ seated on a throne either in the apse or on the tympanum of a portal. The portal was considered symbolic of the entranceway to revelation. The Majestas Domini in the portal tympanum greeted the pilgrim and the faithful. Suger said to the visitors at St. Denis that the beauty that illumines souls must direct them toward the light of which Christ is the true gateway (Christus janua vera ).
In the 12th century the type became universal throughout the West. All of the exemplars represented the Majesty of the Lord and were enhanced with the figures of the Apocalypse and Old Testament visions. The fully developed type is found in 12th-century French sculpture, as at Moissac, Chartres, and Charlieu, and in Limoges enamels, all of which display a common image of Christ. Derived from successive redactions of apsidal frescoes of the preceding period, representations of the period from 1140 to 1160 are especially homogeneous.
In its beginnings monumental sculpture had translated mainly hieratic and frontal models, but the fiercely linear image of the miniatures, for example, gradually was ennobled. The frontal figure of the Byzantine Pantocrator was given classical qualities and made more supple. Though in Germany and Italy the type of Christ remained little changed from its Byzantine prototype, in France it acquired a new expressiveness and beauty. The last Majesties of Gothic sculpture reflect a humanizing tendency that is at a considerable remove from he hieratic tradition.
With the creation of the image of the Pantocrator and its Western derivatives, Christian art reached the acme of its representation of Christ as the Logos. Thereafter, it was concerned only with the Son of Man, subject to all the infirmities. The suffering Christ, the vir dolorum spoken of by Isaiah (53.3), was depicted as human in His frailty, reviled, spat upon, mocked, wilting under the blows of the scourges, bent under the weight of the cross, exhausted and in extremis on Calvary, and finally agonizing and dying on the cross.
The Dead Christ. The representation of the dead Christ, however, appeared at an earlier time in history. The change was brought about, probably during the Christological controversies in the Church from the 4th to the 7th century, by the necessity of emphasizing Christ's human nature, the reality of which had been denied by the Docetists. Eastern Christian art went straight to the heart of the problem by representing a dead Christ on the cross (Greek Psalter, 1066, British Museum, manuscript Add. 19352, fol. 87b; mosaic of the Crucifixion in the monastery of Daphni, Greece, 11th century).
The image of the dead Christ was revived by Nicetas Stethatos "Pectoratos" (Antidialogus and Dialexis ), in accordance with the ritual of the Zeon of the Byzantine Church and the aphthartodocetic doctrine on which it is based. Christ was depicted with bent head (Jn 19.30) and closed eyes but without any mark of suffering or of the scourging on His body, and with two separate jets, one of blood and the other of water, gushing out of His side wound to imply that the body was not in a state of decomposition. This representation was attacked by Cardinal Humbert as a representation of the antichrist, but it spread westward and appeared in Italy in the 13th century (Coppo di Marcovaldo, panel crucifix, Palazzo Communale, San Gimignano). On the whole, however, Western artists refrained from the representation of an incorruptible body of Christ, and by and large they painted a fully dead Christ on the Cross, as in the many Luccan and Pisan Crucifixions of the 13th century.
Man of Sorrows. Christ portrayed as the Man of Sorrows seems at an opposite pole from triumphant representations of Christ in the earlier Middle Ages, and is also strikingly different in conception from the active Christ of Renaissance art.
In the 11th and 12th centuries the concept of a triumphant Christ was pervasive, and the High Middle Ages produced an idealized representation that is best seen in the Beau Dieu of Amiens. In the late 14th century appeared the fully developed type of the Man of Sorrows; it was frequently represented in the art of the 15th and early 16th centuries. In one class of representations Christ is shown standing with the crown of thorns on His head and pointing with His right hand to the wound in His side. The tragic crown of thorns replaced the actual royal crown in certain representations of Christ in the 12th century; subsequently it became an attribute of all representations of the suffering Christ, whether as the crucified or as the Man of Sorrows. Another class shows him seated on a rock or wooden block, wearily supporting His head with the right hand (sculpture, Heiligkreuzkirche, Gmünd, early 15th century). This type, the Christ in Distress, was influenced by the developed medieval iconography of the Patriarch Job on the dungheap, wearied by extreme physical suffering and the psychic torment of false comforters. A third class of representations is to be found in Italian art, where Christ stands in the tomb or is seated on it, with the Virgin and St. John or angels supporting Him.
In works of art from northern Europe the countenance of Christ as Man of Sorrows is filled with deep grief (Conrad von Einbeck, 1416, Moritzkirche, Halle). The suffering and sorrowful aspect of Christ was made explicit in a 15th-century painting by an anonymous Spanish master. His head is crowned with thorns, His brow is knit in anguish, and two large tears are on His eyelids, paralleled by two thin streams of blood on His cheeks. An inscription around the frame reads: O vos omnes qui transitis per viam, [attendite ] et videte si este dolor similis sicut dolor meus. Albrecht Dürer returned
to the subject several times during his career. In a final version of the Man of Sorrows in "The Small Passion"(1511), he depicted a tragic, isolated, and abject figure of Christ, with head in hand and face almost completely hidden in dark shadow cast by the lowered head. Dürer's was the climactic representation of the figure of the Man of Sorrows.
Humanity of Christ. The concept of the humanity of Christ was carried forward in Renaissance and baroque art. If God may not die, He may not despair either. Only man is subject to both despair and death. In the 17th century an awesome Christ appears in the art of Pacheco, Zurbarán, and Velázquez, who attempt to render the moment when He cried out: "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" (Mt 27.46). Christ is shown looking up to heaven in anguish, surrounded by the gloom of that "darkness at noon" in the image of the Cristo agonizante. The Veronica image of the suffering Christ provided a source for the Spanish painters Zurbarán and Velázquez in their creating of the Cristo agonizante; they transferred the visage to that of the crucified Christ to express the moment of "despair."
Christ's Humanity is shown also through His compassion for the multitude and for children. Rembrandt in particular depicted the tender Christ of the Gospels ("Disciples of Emmaus," 1648, Louvre, Paris; "Christ Healing the Sick," known also as "The Hundred Guilder Print," c. 1642; "The Raising of Lazarus," Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam). The 19th-century painter Fritz von Uhde, in whose works the influence of socialism is visible, depicted the Christ of the Poor in his "Suffer the Little Children to Come unto Me" ("Lasset die Kindlein zu mir kommen," 1884, Museum der bildenden Kunste, Leipzig) and "Come, Lord, Be Our Guest" ("Komm, Herr Jesu, sei unser Gast," 1885, National-galerie, Berlin). The type of Christ appearing in Protestant art is related to the idealized description in the letter of Lentulus. The exception is the ethnic Christ of Rembrandt.
Christus Coelestis Medicus. In the 17th and 18th centuries, in part due to increased respect for the medical profession following upon improvement in the science of healing, a new type of Christ was created, which appears mostly in German art, although the earliest representation appears in Dutch art in 1510. Christ as Apothecary is shown behind a counter and surrounded by the paraphernalia of the druggist's profession. This image had been prepared by the mystical speculations of such writers as J. V. Andreae (1586–1654), J. Arndt (1555–1621), and J. Boehme (1575–1624), but the seed for it may be found in the NT (Mt 9.12, Mk 2.17, and Lk 5.31) and also in the OT (Is 53.5). Tertullian, among the early Church Fathers, also makes reference to it (Adv. Marcionem 3.17.11).
Sacred Heart of Jesus. The Heart of Jesus image, or Caritate Christi, intended to demonstrate Christ's allconsuming love for man, is based in general on the scriptural texts that speak of His compassion for man, and specifically on the vision of St. Margaret Mary Alacoque (1674). Past images of Christ shown pointing or looking at the wound of His side, or even spreading the gash, as in a Vision of St. Bernard by the Master of the Peringsdorfer Altar (Germanisches Museum, Nuremberg), contributed to the creation of the new image in which Christ is shown usually in half-length, pointing to a flaming heart in which the lance wound is shown, inscribed in a crown of thorns, surmounted by a cross. Though frequently repeated, this representation retains only the long hair and beard of the Pantocrator and otherwise is an example of the decline of Christian art. As a conceptual image of Christ's love for man, it is aesthetically inferior to the compassionate Christ.
The Ethnic Christ of the Missions. The images of Christ that have come out of the missionary fields of Asia, Africa, and the Americas reveal no new concept of Our Lord, except ethnically. It is still the long-haired, bearded type of the West with, however, native features. If Christ, despite His Hebraic race, is to be conceived as representing universal human nature, the insistence of each people to look upon Him merely as representing one of their own kind is not an acceptable solution to the problem. His image should rise above all race so that in it one should be able to say that in Him "there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision or uncircumcision."
In the 20th century, images of the Suffering Christ by G. Rouault and of the Crucified Christ by G. Sutherland and R. Lebrun are in the tradition of powerful representation by grÜnewald and a host of German, Spanish, and French masters from Gothic to baroque times.
See Also: trinity, holy, iconography of; god the father, iconography of; holy spirit, iconography of; crucifixion (in art); tree of jesse; mary, blessed virgin, iconography of; last supper, iconography of; descent of christ into hell; pentecost, iconography of; apocalypse, iconography of; john the baptist, st., iconography of; apostles, iconography of; sacraments, iconography of; holy name, iconography of; sacred heart, iconography of; icon.
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