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Distributed for Reaktion Books

The Many Faces of Christ

Portraying the Holy in the East and West, 300 to 1300

Distributed for Reaktion Books

The Many Faces of Christ

Portraying the Holy in the East and West, 300 to 1300

Thanks to current portrayals of Jesus of Nazareth, we are apt to think of him as having long hair and a short beard. But, the holy scriptures do not describe Christ’s physiognomy, and his representations are inconsistent in early Christian and medieval arts. How did this long-haired archetype come to be accepted in the late ninth century as the standard iconography of the Son of God? To answer this question, The Many Faces of Christ examines the complex historical and cultural dynamics underlying the making and final establishment of Christ’s image between late antiquity and the early Renaissance.
Taking into account a broad spectrum of iconographic and textual sources, Michele Bacci describes the process of creating Christ’s image against the backdrop of ancient and biblical conceptions of beauty and physicality as indicators of moral, ascetic, or messianic qualities. He investigates the increasingly dominant role played by visual experience in Christian religious practice, which promoted belief in the existence of ancient documents depicting Christ’s appearance, and he shows how this resulted in the shaping of portrait-like images that were said to be true to life. With glances at analogous progressions in the Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, Jain, and Taoist traditions, this beautifully illustrated book will be of interest to specialists of Late Antique, Byzantine, and medieval studies, as well as anyone interested in the shifting, controversial conceptions of the historical figure of Jesus Christ.

256 pages | 60 color plates, 50 halftones | 6 x 9 | © 2014

Art: Art--General Studies

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“This rigorous and innovative study makes a vital contribution to an ongoing debate about the emergence and crystallization of a particular physiognomy for Jesus in Christian art. Drawing upon comparative material from other religious traditions in the ancient world, the author demonstrates an impressive facility with, and command of, a broad range of evidence. Bacci’s fresh insights are compelling and will engage readers from a range of backgrounds and scholarly disciplines.” 

Felicity Harley-McGowan, University of Melbourne

“This erudite and very innovative book on the invention of Christ’s portrait is the first such study to give full weight to the influence of biblical and later texts that deal with iconic, ascetic beauty.” 

Jean-Michel Spieser, University of Fribourg, Switzerland

“What did Jesus of Nazareth look like? Did he have curly or long, blond or black hair, was his beard short or flowing? Written by a brilliant scholar and narrator, this book is the first comprehensive history of the shaping of Christ’s face in Eastern and Western Christianity from Late Antiquity to the Renaissance. It analyses the search for and promotion of authentic images and authoritative texts. Addressing a wider public, the book offers groundbreaking insights into the religious imagination regarding the nature and role of holy men not only in Christianity but also in Buddhism, Jainism, Taoism, and Islam.” 

Professor Dr. Gerhard Wolf, Director, Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florenz, Max-Planck-Institut.

Table of Contents

Part One: The Myth of the Archetypal Image
Lifetime Portraits in Asia
Christian Acheiropoieta and the Authentic Portraits of Christ and the Virgin mary
Mythic and Material Images
Material Indicators of Holy Persons’ Earthly Presence
The Exercise of Sight and the Art of Body Inspection
Figurative and Written Records of the Holy Men’s Physical Characteristics
Part Two: The Looks and Locks of Jesus of Nazareth
Christ’s Controversial Visibility
Handsome or Ugly?
Conflicting Hairstyles
Christ’s ‘Identikit’
The Colour of Christ’s Skin
Disputations on Curly and Woolly Hair
Hair and Priestly Fashion
Christ’s Long Hair and St. Paul’s Baldness
Photo Acknowledgements

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