Pictures Of Christ. Among the early Christians, the aversion to the fine arts, as practised by pagan nations, was so great, that no pictorial representation of Jesus Christ was ventured upon, except symbolically through the signs of the lamb, the vine, and fish; the Greek term for fish, constitutes the initial letters of the following Greek sentence, significative of Christ's mission,
thus establishing a monogram, which has acquired a sacred celebrity. The earliest artistic effort to commemorate the life of Christ is parabolical, namely, representing him as a shepherd among his flock, with a shepherd's flute; also in search of the lost sheep, or carrying it after having found it. In these representations, which abounded at the time. Christ appears with the ideal attributes of a youth; also in some instances in the maturity of manhood. Accounts have come down to us of pictures of Christ in the possession of King Abgar of Edessa and of St. Veronica, also of one ascribed to St. Luke; but these accounts are as little supported by historical evidence as the tradition of a miraculous picture at Berytus, and of a statue erected to his memory by the woman whom he had restored to health. The Veronica, also known as the Ecce Homo, is said to be the impression taken on a linen cloth which a woman named Veronica offered to the Saviour to wipe his face, while on his way to crucifixion.
The original miraculous picture is said to have been preserved in St. Peter's church in Rome as late as about the year 700. The most ancient portrait of Christ was in the possession of the emperor Alexander Severus. In the Museo Cristiano of the Vatican is another picture of the Saviour, also dating from the 3d century, worked in antique mosaic, ascribed to a pagan artist, and representing the Saviour as a philosopher. Equally ancient portraits of Christ are found in the Calixtinian and Pontian catacombs near Rome, and are contained in Arin-ghi's Roma Subterranea Nova. Here Christ is represented with an oval face, straight nose, arched eyebrows, and high forehead. The expression is solemn, yet tender. The light brown hair, parted in front, descends in long curls upon the shoulders; the beard is rather short and unequal. A writer of the 8th century, John of Damascus, represents Jesus as having been of imposing presence, with bushy eyebrows, singularly beautiful eyes, regular nose, curling hair, black beard, yellow complexion, resembling the Virgin Mary, etc.
A supposititious letter, purporting to have been written by Lentulus, Pilate's predecessor, to the Roman senate, also represents him as having possessed great personal beauty; but this letter is now known to have been written in the 14th century, and to have been based upon the portraits in the catacombs. The pictorial representations of the head of Christ, which made their first general appearance toward the end of the 4th century, and which served as types during the middle ages, were taken from the impressions traceable to these descriptions, and which, however conflicting in details, were all agreed in the general attributes of beauty in Christ's appearance. From the early middle ages down to Michel Angelo and Raphael, we find the same original conception guiding the minds of artists. Raphael's "Christ in the Sepulchre," and Leonardi's in the "Holy Supper," are generally considered the most beautiful pictures of Christ extant. Titian also excelled in this branch of sacred art; his head of Christ in the ""Tribute Money" in the Dresden gallery is his best.
Among subsequent artists, Ludovico Carracci's heads of Christ are full of expression. - See Grimm's Die Sage rom Ur-sprung der Christusbilder (Berlin, 1843).