18 Different Ways Jesus Has Been Imagined in Art Throughout the Ages

SharePinEmailJesus Christ is undoubtedly one of the most recognizable figures throughout history but we don’t know what he looked like! The Bible itself does not make any reference to Jesus’ physical appearance except that he was “ordinary”. As the centuries have flown by, artists have depicted Jesus in a multitude of ways, with some artists…

Jesus Christ is undoubtedly one of the most recognizable figures throughout history but we don’t know what he looked like! The Bible itself does not make any reference to Jesus’ physical appearance except that he was “ordinary”. As the centuries have flown by, artists have depicted Jesus in a multitude of ways, with some artists struggling to know how to represent Jesus Christ in their artwork. Here are 18 ways that they have imagined Jesus.

Catacombs of Rome

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One of the earliest depictions of Jesus is found in the underground site of the Catacombs of Rome, showing Jesus as the “Good Shepherd”. Created between the 2nd and 5th centuries, Jesus is depicted with short brown hair, clean-shaven, and soft golden skin, carrying a lamb to represent his divine teaching and the gentle guidance he gives to his flock.  

Christ Pantocrator

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The Byzantine icons of Jesus Christ as a “ruler of all” were depicted from the 6th century and offer a recognizable image of Jesus Christ. Here, He is shown with long brown hair, a medium-length brown beard, and pale skin. Jesus is holding the New Testament and is featured with a halo surrounding his head, symbolizing his glory and divinity from Byzantine art.

Carolingian Renaissance

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The 8th century saw Carolingian art take center stage, representing Jesus as a sovereign ruler, sitting on a throne, with a halo surrounding his head. The appearance reflected the Greco-Roman standards of beauty at the time, wearing a beard and looking youthful.

Gothic Artists

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As Gothic art moved to the 13th century, artists began to focus on the Passion and the suffering of Jesus Christ, detailing the realistic agony on his face. The image of Jesus begins to show frailty in his body, with him appearing weak and tired.

Renaissance Artists

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Famous artists Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo created Renaissance art that emphasized Jesus Christ’s beauty as well as his human vulnerabilities. Jesus is depicted with long brown hair, and wearing many robes.

Baroque Artists

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Artists from 17th-century Europe added humanity to their depictions of Jesus, utilizing exaggerated poses and dark colors to invoke emotions. A key example of this era is the painting “Descent From the Cross” by Peter Paul Rubens, c.1612. This work shows Jesus being removed from the cross after his crucifixion, appearing pale with light brown hair and a short beard.

Rococo Artists

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Depictions of Jesus Christ during the Rococo period showed lighter colors and softer detailing, showing Jesus as graceful and tender. In Sebastiano Ricci’s piece, “The Resurrection”, c. 1775, Jesus Christ is seen rising above chaos, pale-skinned and clean-shaven.

Neoclassical Artists

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As art developed in the 18th and 19th centuries, Neoclassical artists depicted Jesus Christ with a stern face and restrained emotions. A classic example is Jean-Baptiste Regnault’s painting named “The Resurrection of Christ”.

Romanticism

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Artists from the Romantic era began to revert to Jesus’ human side, showing his suffering as well as the compassionate nature of His character. But artists of this period also examined the mystical side of Jesus Christ, such as in William Blake’s work “The Ancient of Days”. In this piece, Jesus Christ is depicted with a muscular frame, long blonde hair, and a beard, symbolizing his strength and power.

Realism Artists

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Realism artists from the 19th century include Edouard Manet who searched for the depiction of the real Christ. Manet’s work “Dead Christ with Angels”, painted in 1864, shows a pale muscular Jesus with medium-length light brown hair and a beard, with a slight halo behind Him.

Pre-Raphaelite

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“The Light of the World, by William Holman Hunt, c. 1851, is a glorious painting showing Jesus Christ wearing regal robes and a crown of thorns, depicting a halo behind His head while carrying a lit lantern. Jesus’ appearance in this artwork shows a full, wavy beard and long brown hair.

Impressionist Artists

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As the 19th century came to an end, Impressionist painters such as James Tissot began to show a variety of colors and lighting in their works. Tissot’s “The Life of Christ” shows a fully-robed Jesus Christ standing on top of a mountain. As well as wearing more clothing than in other depictions of Jesus Christ, he is also shown with light brown hair and a long beard.

Modernism Art

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Artwork from the late 19th century and the early 20th century created symbolic paintings with strong colors, using black shades on the hair and beard colorings of Jesus. George Rouault created “The Sacred Art Pilgrim Collection” which depicts many images of Jesus Christ.

Expressionism Art

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Intense emotions were the primary concern for Expressionism artists in the early 20th century. Emil Nolde depicts Jesus Christ as painfully thin and vulnerable with a haggard face in his “Crucifixion” artwork.

Cubism Artists

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Cubist artists, such as Pablo Picasso, portrayed Jesus as an unkempt individual in his artwork “Portrait of Christ”. Jesus is shown with messy hair and beard in this black and white piece, with a small, straight nose and large eyes.

Surrealist Artists

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One of the most famous Surrealist artists is Salvador Dali. He created the work “Christ of Saint John of the Cross” in 1951, depicting Jesus with short hair. Jesus appears as an otherworld figure who is looking down on the Earth while being crucified.

Non-Western Depictions

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Non-western artists typically depict Jesus Christ with similar features to that locality. So Jesus has dark skin in Ethiopian Christian artwork, while Coptic artwork depicts Jesus with brown skin and curly hair. In the Middle East, paintings of Jesus show him as having Middle Eastern features, while Chinese Christian art places Jesus in the context of Chinese culture.

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