Did Christ really have awesome abs? Western art has frequently stumbled over the contradiction between the ascetic figure of Jesus of Nazareth and the iconography of Christ inspired by the heroic, Hellenistic ideal: Christ as beautiful, tall and broad-shouldered, God’s wide receiver; blue-eyed, fair-haired, a straight aquiline nose, Christ as European prince.
Rembrandt van Rijn, in a career rich with artistic innovation, begged to differ. A new exhibition at Paris’s Louvre museum””and coming to Philadelphia and Detroit later this year””shows in dozens of oils, charcoal sketches and oak-panel studies how the 17th-century Dutch painter virtually reinvented the depiction of Jesus and arrived at a more realistic portrait.
As “Rembrandt and the Face of Jesus” shows, before Rembrandt painters tended to reiterate the conventional imagery of Christ. Catalog authors Larry Silver, of the University of Pennsylvania, and Shelley Perlove, of the University of Michigan-Dearborn, call this “the predictable majesty” of the subject.