Face Tg Face

Le has seen i ■. h i ii i i-'l L mi wails or woven into curtains. H j-. i : i i i also seem to indicate that, in his view, this is .i somewhat nev. practice, and he urges his readers (in oiií l.i^- the Emperor Iheodosius and tri anothei Bishop John oflerusalem to stop the practice outright. Kefut ing I lie defense Mt images Lliot musí 1 re .i J \ have been circulating, he d« lares:

You may tel me 1 Wm the Fat hers abominated t he idols of the gentiles, w ht it ea -we make images of sai nit as a memorial to lhem Jind wursh p 11 " =--.■ in their 11. i -.1 ■ i. It is h 11 rc K on this assum pi inn that some 1 -1 uni have dared to plaster (he .1.1 - i ■■.L-i. k' 111 :■ hnusc oí ■ i, n: and hy ■ ■ ■ i-.l; ■ ■■ of different colors to represent pictures of Peter and lohn .md Paul, as [ see by the inscription of each of th«£ ialw: Lmages, set down through the stupidity of the painter and according [ft ■. - lvtvrt iabl idi-llitíl-hn."'

bpiphanius goes on ro point out that -i portrait of an e\terioi appear anee i-, merely a representation oí something ihal is dead and useless, especially since these saints .lk- now deceased. When ^l- next see them, he ¿ays, these ¿aints will be conformed to the image >■ r Christ and "adorned with glory."

Visual portraits, a.s wç have defined thcmt .ltl- difïercnl from narrative i-r symbolic images, in thai lfn-ir primary purpose i> lo presen! .lu individual human (or divine) countenance viewers for contempla i i ■ 11 - - rhey usually are presented frontal iy, sometimes as full figures, but oftL'ii only the bust or face. Contemplation, of course, can lead i" rapt allravlion and ihrn all tuo eïisil} to »viKmliuil, which ii the point 4it whic h tin- portrait iseiptt i.ilK vulnerable to misunderstanding or misuse, and why most third .liul fourth century Christians ma) have deliberate-!) avoided lhem. Artwnrks whose primary pu rpoüe i^ I o |Vir-tray the face and general character or personality of a subject claim rn achieve some kind uf "likeness' either rl-jlií.rj-j ur expressive, and internal as well as cktl'tn.lI—rather than presenting that subject asan actor ■ whether incidental or central} in -i larger composition. \s we have seen, based on available evidence, sueh early Christian resistance M portraits implied no general resistance to figurative art that occurred wilbiii a larger narrative frame j:id made no daim to present j "real likeness.''

Thk- absence of early Christian portraits i-í even more striking when we consider that the art o\ portraiture was well established in the Roman world ^nnl was, in Fact, extremely popular among t!"iL' upper classes at the lime when ( hristians were beginning produce plastic and graphic art.1" We cannot credil a lack o\ cultural prototypes, then, for theabwncc nf portraiture in earl] (Christianity.. alternative CJtpLa-

—thai this particular kind of art emerges only in segments of the population (the wealthy upper classes) who had llu- resources to com mission slll11 things failü to note that Other artworks would -111--:■- llave

dtL[>L'idt'(] on tliih kind of ¡\itronage. Artwork is more or less cosily depending on the quaLity ol the work, not on its subjeel matter. We must conclude "h,H something, in pari cuiar about portr lits made them off limits 11.11 early t hristian visual art, and, as have seeii,il xvas ¡lot llit prohibition of figurat vc art per ser What m^^lL- portra ts different in early Christian thought was their similarity lo the idols of the poly-11 ■ -.Li sts. Ku rth emit>re, as representing a ,L1 Ikeness,:' por t raits v> ere dece 11 ful. They falsely pri:icnded to hi- something they were not, To some exlenth ihe supposed letttT uf Ivusebius lo f onstantia or the arguments of I piphanius made .1 point not totally out of syne with senti-rnentH expressed bj the philosophers, The images ol the saints were arguably "invented1" by the artists out of their imagination. The image fDuld not contnin th^ total re.dit> ■ 'i who 1 hrist was, .rven in his human incarnation.

Thus, ihe objection to portrait images, as with earliei objections to visual art in general, drew as much upon the classical philosophical tra d i [ in n as u poi 1 .1: ly ji nd l- 1". I w i ^! 1 pre L l i I: -1 ts. 11: -. i: h: r word H, one TT1 i gh t Hi.Lv ihai i'nr snme early Christian leathers, lJ atu was assign ficant a sourLe -.i* Mont- tor the i.11 t 1 --1 i.=. 11 perception ihal Ul portraits, and especially divine images, shouLI be avoided (even though they may have argued ihcii Moses was the original source for such k .:-;hingj. From a phi losopb ka I pn i 111 of v iew, a |*orl ra i i s l i. 1 nger sterns irom i1 s deceptive or mistaken claim.s In present something beyond surfing realii1. and from iispiii.-nii.il for cor fusing viewers iderlifieal an of the externa] and finite with ihe spiritual and infinite. In Christian terms, such confusion eould only lead to apostasy or idolatry, and, as such, ii was associ alcd L-ithcr with polytheistic practices nr ■.^.ich heterodox theology for e\a mpk\ the Carpocratians...'"

EImvever, several excerpts frooi second- and I b i rd-Lunt u n writings reveal a particukir reservation .iboiil portraits, even among cerlain t. 11 i. s I irst, a short scction in the second- or third-ccntury probably Vatenlinianl Aetna} ]i*hu relales ihe story of a certain wealthy man, l.yCoit]edoHh | Tac l>. hr lj f t lie Implies ians, who ne vv i fe, ('lei>pat r, 1. wah miraculously he-iled hy John. The graieful I yvomedes, wishing to have a portrait ul" folin so that he might venerate his image, commissioned a painter tn make the likeness in sccret, without lohr ■, knowledge. l-y*.i)iTiede.Hh overjoyed to have the poMrait, put it in his bedroom, hung garlands 01; it, and lamps and an altar before ii, When fohn diSL o\ l' 1 I whal I .vcocnedes I Lad doneh he wa.H se ve il-]v critii, al, aceyiii ng hi rn of continuing to live as a pagan. I ycomedes responded: uHe alone is my 1 1 nd ■.-.■: 111 "a iI me Lip from death wi t h my wife. Eli-1 :1 besides ihat 1 >isd we inay cal I ou r rth Ij I v 1 lefacto rs gods, it is you, ny. fat her, whose po r trail I possess, whom 1 crown, and Love and reverence,as having become a gcH)d guide 10 r.w.' Jnhn took .! Un>li al 1 he image and was startled lo see his own face for ihe first time las well as flattered b> its beauty).


Nevertheless, he repudiated Lycomcdes, neatly summing up the problem of image and likeness, reiterated the classical argument, and, in words that Epiphariius would Later echo* declared:

a- ihc-1 m..: leigsiChrisi Iwí. ihep^MMíi is like ine; yet ach liíwnie, fív¡ ■-11ï . builiL- my ¡magern (heflesh;for ii the paint« who has copied my tace hire wants to put :ne in a poNrail, then tic need* the colors that were piven you, and boards, and I h l- -hapL1 I my fijare, and age-j ml youth .i in: jIL ^.LlIi vlii-bltihings hm ,lo you be .i goodpiintei for me, I ycomedei You have colara ■which Iil' givTi vou ihroujpi r::^.thal is, lesui, who paints u - -ill from life for Iimum-H. w ho ihf ,hapes aru1 Ecums and colon w ¡Ml :1. I lell you tn piini with: Ul'.Ii in God, knowledge reverende kindflesS fellowship, mildness, piodne«, brotherly love, purity, sincerily, Innquihcy, reirinsnr«. cheerfulness, dignity, ¿r.d the whole band oí colors which portray your ioul and already raise up your members that were cist down and Itvd those which v/m Lifted up, whit"- cure your bruisif- and heal your wemnds In brief, whifl i full Kl i id misture yf guvh wlurs hs4 ■ ■ : n ieiher inty your soul il will present M lo our Lord fesus Ctirisl undumayed and undamaged and rounded In form. Hul what you have now done UchUdiih anc imperfect; you h jvc drawn .i dead Likeness of what is dead.*1

This brief account parallels a somewhat unreliable record regarding the (polytheistic) Emperor Mexandei Severus (ca, 208-235 c,e.}, who is míiL to -uve sec -Lifi .L pantheon of gods» heroes, and philosophers in hi> private chapel, including images of lesus, Apollonius ot Tyana, Abra* ham, Alexander the Great, jtkI ürphens. The empenVi mother, Julia Mammea, Liad summoned the theologian Origen for a conversation, so the story may have been b.LSi-d on rnl- factual di-t.iil." Again, wo reminded of Irenaeus's claim that the Carpocratians sut up Images of philosophers (such as Jhljtn, Pythagoras, and Aristotle) lis ■^^■L-L] as of II-^ .md offered them crowns and other signs of veneration "Like the Gentiles71}. Of course, in c.lcIi case, portrait images of Christ are associated "WL1Í1 the opposition—heretics nr pagans, fn summary, 'W problem oi portraits was M least twofold: they were likely tu hi- misused—stv up and covercd with garlands, scented ^ith smoking incense, illumined with votive candles, and offered worship or prayer like ihr ido]S of thc potylheists—-in13 they were false and imitative copies of something that was absolutely beyond their ability to represent. Thc distance between model and image was unbridgeable, in the prevailing worldview, which regarded the making of images as one of the Lowest levels of participation ini reality or truth, LTit" truth was understood to be beyond containment in h^ s.l1 or material ( ration, and [lu- work of human hands was perceived as imitalive at best. The usefulness of art .is ¡ti che realms of the symbolic and didactic, where 11 referred directly to the intellectual and cognitive realm of ideas and .a r^Ljmerits, slorits and Iessons. A nd visual represen talions of siories and lessons are unlikely to attract offerings of flowers, incense, or even


As we have seen> the criticism of portraits as essentially fraudulent did not emerge first within Christian theology but was a standard philosophical tmism that can be traced all the way hack to Plato's doctrine of mimesis, in which the earthly "copy" is many steps removed from the reality of the eternal "model-"vl This standard philosophical adage was carried forward into the Christian period in the thinking of the middle and neo-Platonists, but most notably Plotinus (ca. 205-270 c.e.)j who was said to refuse any attempt to have his portrait made. His rebuff incorporated the standard Platonic objection: "hi it not enough to carry about this image in which nature has enclosed us? l>o you really think that I must also consent to leave, as a desirable spectacle to posterity, an image of the image?""' His disciple and biographer, Porphyry (ca. 232-305 c.e.), began his Life of Plotinus by recounting how the foremost portrait artist of the day, a certain Carterius, attended Plotinuspublic lectures so that he could observe the philosopher and catch his "most telling personal traits" in order to produce from memory (and clandestinely) a sketch that could then he circulated among friends for their critique and suggestions until a lifelike portrait had emerged. Such a portrait would have been a sort of hybrid of "from life" and "from memory"—an attempt not simply to capture an external likeness buL also to represent the character of the model,1*

Since the Christian church emerged in this cultural milieu, we must assume that converts not only were familiar with the practice of making and using portraits but were possibly also aware of the criticism of that practice. If so, they may have adapted this criticism to reflect their own theological issues—asserting, with Plotinus, that portraits mistook the external world for the true (invisible and ideal) one or that they were products of a materialistic and idolatrous culture that adherents to the newr faith ought to reject on general principle. If such objections were taken from the philosophical sphere into the Christian theological one, we may also assume that concern with the dishonesty and even danger of portraits could run deep within the intellectual tradition, affecting the everyday practice of Christians, including the art they created to express their faith.

Evidence for Christian adoption of Platonist objections to art may be found within the wider Christian intellectual circles including the writings of Valentinus (ca. 120-160 c.e*), who offers a criticism very similar to PlotinusSs, but from a century earlier;

1 lowever much a portrait is inferior to an actual face, just so is the world worse than the living realm. Now1 what is the cause of the | effectiveness of the] por trait? It is the majesty of the face that has furnished to the painter a prototype so thai the portrait mi^ht be honored by his tuimt | either of the model or the painter]. Pot the form was not reproduced with perfect fidelity» yet the name completed the lack within the act of modeling. And also God's invisible

I nature] cooperates with what has been modeled I Adam | to lend it credence,*7

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