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Finding Jesus in Art

April 17, 2018

By Sally Perkins

Where The Oldest Images Of Our Lord Can Be Found

Our Saviour has a long history in art and has been portrayed in many ways over the centuries. Whilst it is more important to consider what Jesus would do over how he actually looked, many draw comfort from the image of Christ. Our Lord has been shown as a child, a shepherd, a lamb and most often as a divine loving man. In 2001, Popular Mechanics revealed an image they claimed was closer than any to showing what Jesus would have looked like. What they produced was remarkable in its simplicity. We are shown a Palestinian who could have grown up as a carpenter before becoming a fisher of men. Over the years Jesus has been shown in many different ways and most are still available to be explored.  

The Mosaic of St. Pudenziana - Christ on a Throne

Painted around 410 AD this image is one of the earliest mosaics of its kind. Jesus Christ, our Lord is shown wearing a regal toga of gold and purple whilst sitting on a throne studded with jewels. Like almost every image of Jesus this picture is very much of its time and represents the Roman idea of authority. You can find this image in Santa Pudenziana in Rome.

Adoration of the Magi - The Earliest Image Of The Three Kings

If you are lucky enough to visit the catacomb of Priscilla in Rome you will be able to see this amazing image. Painted in the middle of the third century the three Magi are giving their gifts to the infant Jesus and the Holy Mother. What the picture lacks in detail it makes up for in the sheer power of its age and the faith it represents.

Christ Between Saint Peter and Saint Paul - Jesus with disciples and martyrs

Whilst not the oldest image of Saint Paul this image comes from the same period (the middle of the fourth century). Like the earlier image of the Holy Saint this painting is also found in the catacombs below Rome. Our Lord is found, in this case, in the catacombs of Marcellinus. This is one of the earliest images of Jesus as an older man with a beard. 

Good Shepherd Mosaic - Jesus shown with his flock

One of the earliest images of our Lord Jesus Christ we know that this particular painting was completed around 425 AD. It sits in Ravenna, Italy within Galla Placidia’s mausoleum. This wonderful image is made out of stone and glass and because it is a World Heritage Site it has been incredibly well preserved. Despite being a very early image this is also one of the first to show the transition from Jesus being shown as an ordinary man and instead being portrayed as regal or holy.    

The Healing of the Paralyzed Man - The Earliest Image of Our Lord

This stunning image was completed only two hundred years after the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Unlike most of the other early images it is not found in Italy but instead in Syria. The picture shows Our Lord instructing a man who was lame to “get up and walk”. This miracle (that showed that through Jesus our sins will be forgiven and nothing is impossible) was on the wall of the Dura-Europos Church but can now be found in Yale University.

What These Images Show Us

For some nothing is revealed in these pictures but for others the struggle to show the nature of Jesus Christ is an emotional journey that parallels our journey to discover him in our lives. Others take similar physical journeys through the Holy Land in search of evidence for the life of Christ the Redeemer and in doing so they discover more than just the evidence they seek but the peace of God too. May the Lord bless you and keep you.

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