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Saturday, February 21, 2004

Jesus in the mirror.

The Times has a good article this morning on the history of depictions of Jesus in art and on film. "Jeffrey Hunter in King of Kings (1961) is commonly referred to as 'the Malibu Jesus,' while Willem Dafoe's celluloid savior was a perfectly credible love match for the lusty Barbara Hershey as Mary Magdalene in The Last Temptation of Christ (1988). And Max von Sydow was a handsome — and distinctly Aryan — Jesus in The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965)." Find out what Origen and Tertullian thought about depictions of Jesus, but this is my favorite part of the article:

Trying to run back through the gantlet of images and icons built up over the centuries and rediscover the true face of Jesus is no mean feat. While filming a new documentary about the historical Jesus ("The Mystery of Jesus" on "CNN Presents," tomorrow night at 8, Eastern time; 7, Central time; and 5, Pacific time), our production team sought the most accurate idea of what Jesus might have looked like. We chose a retired British medical artist, Richard Neave, who has made a career out of reconstructing the faces of famous historical figures from scant archaeological traces. Mr. Neave had worked with the BBC on a similar project a few years before, making a composite cast of three Semitic skulls from first-century Palestine and using them as the basis for fleshing out the face of a contemporary of Jesus, if not Jesus himself.

The facial overlay that the BBC then put on Mr. Neave's work didn't please him or many others, however. He wasn't upset that some thought that the face made Jesus look like a New York taxi driver. Rather, he didn't like the eyes and the mouth, and what the historian Robin M. Jensen, writing recently in Christian Century, called "a particular dumbfounded — one might say stupid — expression."

Hoping to rectify the problem, we hired a New York artist, Donato Giancola, and reworked the portrait, using Mr. Neave's skull and information from other experts. The results, to my mind, were a more noble, even soulful, Jesus, and yet historically believable — I hope something closer to the itinerant Galilean of history. Even so, the results looked uncannily like Mr. Giancola himself, which was part coincidence — he actually resembles the face Mr. Neave produced — and part inevitability. Artists are always painting themselves, just as believers are always making themselves the models for the divine.

("What did Jesus really look like?" David Gibson, New York Times 2.21.04, reg req'd)

Copyright © 2004 by Philocrites | Posted 21 February 2004 at 10:33 AM

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