The iconic image of Jesus includes chestnut hair cascading around a slender face, thin lips, and bright eyes. However, a new exhibit at the Philadelphia Museum of Art called "Rembrandt and The Face of Jesus" is showing more life-like, realistic images of Christ.
The exhibition, the first Rembrandt exhibition in Philadelphia since 1932 and the first ever in the city to include paintings by the Dutch master, reunites the seven paintings of this exceedingly rare and singular series for the first time since 1656. Of these portraits, three are being seen in the United States for the first time.
Complemented by more than fifty related paintings, prints, and drawings, "Rembrandt and the Face of Jesus" allows visitors to consider the religious, historic, and artistic significance of these works.
Art lenders include the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., The Metropolitan Museum in New York, the British Museum and the National Gallery in London.
Rembrandt van Rijn is regarded as the greatest master painter of the Dutch Golden Age. The exhibit has been hailed as a gutsy makeover of the most-depicted man in Western art.
Jesus was, of course, Jewish. But few artists emphasized his ethnicity, or his humanity, as frankly and directly as Rembrandt has.
One of the paintings in the exhibit is called "Head of Christ, done from life." The painting's label has been garnering media attention because it would be impossible for Rembrandt, or any of his peers, to have painted Jesus "from life."
However, the New York Times reports that specialists have taken it to mean, simply, that the artist used a live model as a stand-in for Christ.
If Rembrandt did use a live model, as some scholars believe, then the model was most likely a young Sephardic Jew from his neighborhood in Amsterdam in the mid 1650s, when "Head of Christ, done from life" was found.
In using a human face to depict Jesus, Rembrandt overturned the entire history of Christian art, which had previously relied on rigidly copied prototypes for Christ.
The curator for the Philadelphia museum exhibit is Lloyd DeWitt, the associate curator of European Painting. "Rembrandt and The Face of Jesus" was situated on the first floor of the Dorrance Special Exhibition Gallery at the Philadelphia Museum of Art now through October 30.