The Healing of the Paralytic, 232 A.D.
One of the oldest known depictions of Jesus dates back to 232 A.D. Titled “The Healing of the Paralytic” it comes from the wall of the baptistery in the Dura-Europa church in what is present day Syria. It depicts one of the miracles of Jesus from the Gospels. Jesus was teaching inside a home. The group that formed was so large that, when a group of men came carrying a paralyzed man, there was no room for them. They could not get inside. An opening was made in the roof above Jesus and the paralyzed man was lowered down. In this early image, we see a beardless depiction of Jesus. A depiction of a bearded Jesus didn’t emerge until around 300 A.D.
Jesus as “The Good Shepherd”
The first sculpture we see is titled “The Good Shepherd” which dates from 300–350 A.D. It is located at the Catacombs of Domitilla, Rome and is an early representation of Jesus as the “good shepherd.” The image of the Good Shepherd is the most common of the symbolic representations of Jesus found in early Christian art in the Catacombs of Rome. It wasn’t until the 5th century that the figure began to resemble the conventional depiction of a bearded Christ with a halo and rich robes.
While we read much about Jesus’ public ministry, passion and resurrection in the Bible, there is very little, outside of His birth, written about His youth. Luke is the only one to mention an episode in the life of Jesus as a boy. In Luke 2:40-52, we learn that, when Jesus was 12, Mary and Joseph took Him to Jerusalem for Passover. However, during their visit, they became separated from Jesus. When they found Him several days later, He was in the Temple listening to the teachers and asking them questions about God’s Word. He told his parents, “Why were you searching for me? Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” (Luke 2:49). The Bible then adds, “Then he went down to Nazareth. … And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men” (Luke 2:51-52). Here are examples of how some artists have portrayed Jesus as a child.
Jesus as “Christ Pantocrator,” 6th or 7th century
This representation of Jesus is known as “Christ Pantocrator” and was painted on a wooden board during the 6th or 7th century. The Greek word Pantocrator literally means “he who has authority over everything.” During this period, Byzantine iconographers made use of features to convey a sense of power and authority, such as an open right hand. This image is the oldest known example of “Christ Pantocrator” in the world. You may notice the different expressions shown on the right and left sides of Jesus’ face. It’s believed they suggest His double nature as both human and divine. It is currently preserved at the Monastery of St. Catherine on Mount Sinai, in Egypt, one of the oldest monasteries in the world
There are eight surviving Irish examples of Crucifixion Plaques, although many more were produced. This one is called The Rinnegan Crucifixion Plaque. It dates from the late 7th or early 8th century. It is made of Irish gilt-bronze and was found in the 19th century in a churchyard. This plaque shows Jesus surrounded by four panels. The lower panels show the lance and sponge bearers, while 2 angels hover in the sections above His arms. It is one of the earliest representations of the crucifixion in Irish art. It is also a rare example of both representation and a narrative scene in early Irish Insular art. It is not only the earliest of the eight surviving Irish plaques, it is also the largest and is widely considered the finest. It’s a beautiful work of art.
Early Christian Art, c. 1st-5th century)
The top image, known as Jesus and His Twelve Apostles, is an example of Early Christian Art (c. 1st-5th century) and is located in the Roman catacombs of Domitilla. As art developed over the centuries, images of Jesus reflected the characteristics, trends, and values of the artistic periods they were created in. What stands out the most about art created during this period is its scarcity. Early Christians feared Roman prosecution, so their religion was less organized and they avoided evidence linking them to their faith. In addition, early Christians were hesitant to create depictions of Jesus as the Old Testament prohibited representations of a god. What does exist from this period is mostly found in Roman catacombs where it was common practice for wealthy Roman Christians to bury their deceased family members. The bottom left image is considered one of the first images to show a bearded Jesus (late 4th century). It is from a mural painting from the catacomb of Commodilla. The image on the bottom right is another example of early Christian art. It shows us a bearded Jesus seated between Peter and Paul. It is located in the catacombs of Marcellinus and Peter in Rome.
Unlike Early Christian Art, Byzantine art glorified Christianity, and most, if not all, art during this period was religious based. Artists from the Byzantine period used bright glass and gold mosaic techniques to show the divinity of Jesus. As we can see in these examples, Byzantine art lacked realism. Jesus faces the front looking directly at us. His face is long, narrow and solemn. During the early Byzantine period, Jesus was depicted as a young man without a beard and with short hair. However, in the 3rd century and the beginning of the 4th century, many works began to portray Jesus with a beard. By the 5th century, Byzantine artists included a cruciform halo (a halo with the outline of a cross within it) to signify that He was holy. The letters “IC” and “XC” appear on either side of this halo which is a common abbreviation of His name. In addition, Jesus is often shown holding a book in His left hand with His right hand open which signifies a blessing.
Jesus in Chinese Art
This first image is “Jesus Christ as a Manichaean Prophet.” It dates from the early 13th century from southern China. The figure is identified as a representation of Jesus Christ by the small gold cross that sits on the red lotus pedestal in His left hand. The second image is a representation of Jesus on a Manichaean temple banner dating from East Central Asia in the 10th century. When compared side by side (as we see in the third image) there are numerous similarities. Both show a red halo framed in red-gold-red bands. In both, Jesus has long hair, a moustache, a beard, and we see a loop beneath His earlobe. Jesus wears a white cloak with a gold border, as well as a red robe with folds of dark red. The gesture of His right hand shows two distant fingers, and both are seated.
A number of paintings by Russian artists during the 1800s strove to break away from the established canons of religious painting by depicting Jesus as an ordinary man. This first painting, “Christ in the Wilderness” by Ivan Kramskoy from 1872, is considered one of the most famous images of Christ in Russian art. Kramskoy depicts Jesus not as a saint tempted by evil forces, but as an ordinary man filled with doubts. We see the struggle in His expression and the way His hands are firmly clasped. The second painting is “The Last Supper” by Nikolai Ge from 1863. Ge created a number of paintings (referred to as his Passion Cycle) which look at the last days of Christ’s life, His crucifixion, and His resurrection. In this painting, Ge has departed from the traditional way of depicting the Last Supper. Jesus is not in the center. The table is illuminated while Jesus lays, looking forlorn and exhausted, to the left of it. The painting was bought by Emperor Alexander II and is currently housed in the Russian Museum in St Petersburg. The third painting is another by Nikolai Ge. Created in 1890, this painting is called “What is Truth” and it shows the conversation between Jesus and Pontius Pilate after His arrest. This shows a bold departure from the established principles of religious painting. Jesus, usually illuminated, is seen standing in the shadows against a glowing Pilate. In addition, Jesus appears shabby and expressionless.
The most expensive painting ever sold at public auction is a painting of Jesus Christ. It sold for $450.3 million in November of 2017 through the auction house Christie’s in New York. The painting is titled Salvator Mundi (Latin for ”Savior of the World”) and dates from around 1499–1510. When it sold, it was believed to be the work of Italian High Renaissance artist Leonardo da Vinci. However many have questioned that attribution. In any case, the painting was purchased by Prince Badr bin Abdullah Al Saud for Abu Dhabi’s Department of Culture and Tourism, though it is now believed that he may have been a stand-in bidder for his close ally, the Saudi Arabian crown prince Mohammed bin Salman. In the painting we see Jesus making the sign of the cross with His right hand while holding a clear sphere in His left, signifying the “celestial sphere” of the heavens. It is believed that the painting was commissioned for a specific patron to be used in the context of personal devotion, though no one is certain who that patron was. While plans had been made to display this painting at some point, it has yet to be displayed. In June 2019, the painting was said to be sailing the Red Sea on a luxury yacht belonging to bin Salman. No one seems to know why anyone would pay such an exorbitant amount of money for a painting and not display it, though it’s possible it’s due to the question about its authenticity. In August 2020, painter and art historian Jacques Franck cited its “childishly conceived left hand”, as well as the “oddly long and thin nose, the simplified mouth [and] the over shadowy neck” as evidence that Leonardo did not paint it. British art historian Charles Hope has said that he doubts that Leonardo would have painted a work where “the eyes were not level and the drapery undistorted by a crystal orb.” He added, “The picture itself is a ruin, with the face much restored to make it reminiscent of the Mona Lisa.” In any case, it’s a dramatic portrayal of Jesus that has been replicated countless times over the years by artists around the world.
“The Transfiguration” (1520) by the Italian High-Renaissance master Raphael was commissioned by Cardinal Giulio de Medic intended for the Narbonne Cathedral in France. However, it was never sent to France. Instead it was given to the Blessed Amadeo Church in 1523. This is considered one of his finest works and exemplifies his development as an artist. This would be the last work he would ever create and continued to work on until the last days of his life.
In “The Transfiguration”, we see two levels of opposition. We see Christ with his power to redeem in the upper section. This area symbolizes the pure and symmetrical elements of the universe. While, on the lower section, we see Man and all of his flaws. There are scenes of chaos and gloom.
From the late 16th century until the early 20th century, “The Transfiguration” was regarded by many as the most famous oil painting in the world.
Prince of Peace
“Prince of Peace” (2004) was painted by prodigy Akiane Kramarik who made a name for herself in the art world at just 8 years old when her portrait of Jesus launched her career. A self-taught painter, Akiane lived in a shack in rural Illinois with her parents and brothers. Kramarik explained that when she was 4, Jesus spoke to her encouraging her to draw and paint her visions. So she began to draw at the age of 4 and was painting at 6. When she decided to paint the face of Jesus she had a difficult time finding a model who resembled the man she’d seen in her visions. A family friend suggested a carpenter they knew as a possible subject. The man’s face closely resembled what Kramarik remembered as the face of Jesus. She completed the portrait (which was nearly twice her size) in 40 hours. However when it was shipped to her agent for an exhibition shortly after she completed it, the agent sold the painting without her permission. For sixteen years the original painting was kept hidden. It wasn’t until December of 2019 when “Prince of Peace” was finally recovered by Akiane’s family and sold to a private collector for $850,000.
Another interesting piece of information related to “Prince of Peace” comes from a child named Colton Burpo. At the age of 4, Colton underwent a critical operation after his appendix burst. He has said that, during this time, he had an experience of visiting Heaven and seeing Jesus. Years later, when he saw Kramarik’s “Prince of Peace” on TV, he told his father “Dad, that one’s right.”
Christ the Redeemer
Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil is the most famous of all Christ statues (Images 1-3). As a matter of fact, it’s so iconic that it’s one of the 7 wonders of the world. However, there are more than 30 variations seen across the globe
Image 4: Guanajuato, Mexico. This image shows the Cristo Rey statue. Located in the Guanajuato province of Mexico, west of the city of Guanajuato, it is often referred to as Cerro del Cubilete which is the almost 9,000 foot tall mountain that it stands on.
Image 5: Cochabamba, Bolivia. This is the Cristo de la Concordia and is the second largest Jesus Christ statue in the world. It was modeled after Christ the Redeemer in Rio, Brazil. The statue has Jesus’s left hand pointing south, while his right is pointing north.
Image 6: Havana, Cuba. Christ of Havana is a marble statue which overlooks Havana Port. A historical fact about this statue is that it was erected just 2 weeks before Fidel Castro started the Cuban Revolution.
Image 7: Tegucigalpa, Honduras. Cristo del Picacho is one of the 30 wonders of Honduras which stands on top of the El Picacho hill. It is one of the worlds’ newest Christ statues. It was built at the end of the twentieth century to welcome the year 2000.
Image 9: Lisbon, Portugal. Not many people know that Lisbon, Portugal has its own huge Christ Redeemer statue. Adjacent to the 25 de Abril Bridge, Sanctuary of Christ the King is one of the most photogenic Christ the Redeemer statues. The 918 foot tall statue stands on an 269 foot pedestal overlooking Lisbon, Portugal.
Image 9: Swiebodzin, Poland. Christ the King is the tallest Jesus Christ statue in the world. It’s located beside the main route which connects Berlin, Germany to Warsaw. This Jesus Christ statue is 118 feet tall including the crown. It is also one of the newest Jesus Christ statues in the world. It was completed in 2010.
Image 10: Vung Tau, Vietnam. At 105 feet tall, Christ the King is the tallest Jesus Christ statue in Asia as well as the fourth tallest in the entire world.