types. Even the later visual represent* hrist'spass
lion. i ■ r a) iJlronemeu t were mu re cdityirlg than iconic. rhty were mean I as visual presentations of1 hnstian teac úngs, an J tli-ey paralleled cer-i.in verbal modes including homilies, by mns, and catechetical instruc lion, They were mcarn lo instruct vipers in the fundamentals of (be uiiJi uv :•■< inspire ihcnn to oflvr praise and thanksgiving, The images narrated certain actions ui the ; .l-l iliai one could, in ,i Mínse. "waU I: rjthcr ihan mediating a living hol> presence that one could engage in llit' present. These 11..1 rative images were St riplure presented in piuUjre*. r;i 11 r than words; the> pointed to <rods salvifn 1 -if his:■ n\ asa sign of hope and promise for the future. '
By contrast, lI:l- new images that began to appeat in thelale fourLh century offered cncounle: more than edification. These were the pt>r traits of Christ Iir the saints that urilitled .specific" narralivií amleU enr background .iiili Instead presented a likeness of" their subject i'm ilsowu sake." Portrayals existed of the deceased „ made for I heir own tombs and
etimes -et into scallop Pellín edalliona bul ikese were noi "Imly imams'"' \ticJ aliho^h often described v> a representation of Christ, thi- figure of ihe tlood Shepherd v..is noi .1 ;inrir.Li: al Christ bin a [neta [ill■ 1 expreüsi ng I be -. I 1.1. i I i I.--■ of Jesus a.s a lov i n|: ^ -I 1.1 k L-r <tf sou |.l;. Scenes of fesus or the apostles show them as characters in specific stories oj seicings 1 form ingot witnessing certain .lli- or works, "theseare :■ • • 1 port rii' ts as sueh.
This lack tif early Christian portraiture cannot be explained as an accident but rather as the result of a conscious effort to resist idol, nr. I>y p rodu ci ng art that pr 111.11: ly serv<.-d a d i dactic fu net io n. Earh ' h r i stian s seem lo buve known that the simple: representation of Cbrrsl.s or a sainfs face, without any narrative context had ;he potential to alt-.n.i deslían or worship. In thi■ first three or tour centuries, th i-. was dangerously símilai in tlie ways that images of the traditional Roman •.>.mK mi^hl he I iva ted. Thus, lnF limiting the kinds ol visual art furms that could be deemed acceptable, idolatry wai avoided, even while symbolic or narrative art was permitted. Christians differed from their |\igan neighbors by avoiding a certain fcñrrf of image, notbyavo J-iij; images in gen era]. At a later tijme4 when a di ffe 1 eiu k i nd of da 1 ige r oí :i eed was pet ce ¡ved, a new ki 11J - tf image could emerge and find . 1 s place In < hi -lia n |>r¿LLticc and theolngv the hoi) ]>r1rait.
Portraits: A Particular Kind of Problematic Image
I "L-rhaps the enoil often-c ite 1. patristk Coildemnalion of llnly portr.iils is found in a famous lettei pur ported to be from husebius of < ^aesarea to I mperntr C.jmstaniine's sister, the Augusta Con.ilantia (ma'i'itvl t« hi*
FACE TO h AC h rivalin the east» Licimus}, in which he refuses hei petition foj painted portrait of Christ and reproaches her '.or her theological naïveté;
Since tau have written referring dso lo a certain image icon of Christ I lio: you wanted u-^ to -^end you, which image o] tIhrisl do von meanî . , . thai ■•■• hkh i--- true and unchangeable and which bear*. the characteristics -if his : ..i i.. : 111 ill .n ■,', .'■. ; L.': he ,i ssu m ed for ni, ihç figure. ill .i: is, i hat ht took in t.n.L form of a srrv-anl? . . . But certainly pou air asking :or an icaii "I I he form nf :1k- sci '- ,int iLii l1 thai oí a hit -.<: :'.<.-•.•. which he put on ft>r us Who would, : Ik'n, hi- ahí e to dtjw with de-id ,itid i i ■■■■.■:-- ■■_■:■ -.. ■ ■ ■ in iktf c 11 es,, thí y. I r igring and sparkling ■,.. ich aie s<i ■.-. i. pnedoi id gJc*r¡OU¿?
The divine Apostles on (he mountain-couh! iiiH even enduir Lu Look .il h::::-and they fell on their faces confessing lhat they couJd not bear the
In a longer version o: i Ik- letter found in a different document collec lion), Euiehins jddv "But if you mear ta ask of me the itnage, nol or' I i i-K form transformed into lh,n of Godn but that of the mortal flesh before transformation, can it be that you have forgotten that p.L^^^yf m vf Ii ï ^ 11 í. i L i-lL lays down iiiL' law lhal no likens should iv1 nude either ill what in heaven, i^r what is in the earth beneath?" According to ilii^ Letter, the bishops objection i.-, ihc empííííV request emerged oui of a l] ll j L concern. On one h an d, he h el ie ves t ha i il was impossible to p reset 11 a li lie image of the incarnate Divine Son without denying the reality id' both his human and divine natures, since each ¡i so inextricably hound up with the other that it i\ imptïiuihLe tu represent the union itself in a visual form. On the other, he points to Ili^' Scv^nd Commandment, which he interpreted to be against likenesses in general. Signi(leantlyh !."■■- ft li arguments anticipate the objections of the Byzantine iconoclasts
Finally, Eusebius asserts th.U. because such images simply did not esist, be could not honoi the empress's request in any case: "Have you ever heard anything (it the kind either yourself in church lit from another person? Are not such iIlíiilí* banished and excluded fmm churches ni LL oveT the world, and is it not common knowledge that such practices are mu permitted Id u> alone?1' By way of illustration, he offers a personal anecdote, telling of a time when another woman brought to him a picture of two men in the guise o\' philosophers, claiming that they were and ('.jirin. Bccau« the object offended him, Eusebius confiscated it. Eusebius ,ilst> refers to images of Simon Magus and Mani to demonstrate the association painted portraits with, in his opinion, lLl- wurfit so:l of heretic.
Drawing conclusions from this document about an earty Christian repudiation of visual art (specifically portraits of Christ) is difficult because the text > r .l i n ^ several troubling i s i s: l-ji l- í-l^ when compared lo other writings of Eusebius. The list argument directly contradicts mentions he makes elsewhere of figurative images, for instance of a (now hisii brunïc statue group in Caesarea Philippi that showed a
VISUA!. ART, PORTRAIT^. AND IDOLATRY
kneeling ■:i:.1 ii wlili her arms outstretched lt. supplication to (he upright figure lir .. well dressed r.i.in. L he locals held this to be a reprr sentation of Christ healing the woman suffering from hemorrhages, an event reported to have taken place .=.i iIiivery -u'l'. Rusebius neither denies ii - identity mm denounces its existence. lis even commends the i iL-ntilo. who sel up the statue j-* a sign ot their thankfulness and noles lhai the locals Itelieved ihe staLue luire lLl' likeness of Jesus4 which was easily recognizable from othet painted Images that he had himself -*een, and lit akn mentinns other portrait likenesses of Peter and Paul:
Nor is ii strange thi t1 how *if I he i jeni lies whev, i f nld, were licnc iiicd by nui
SjviLtr. slicjulci luvif JluVI mil3i 1 I i i il^, iiiikLC '.i ..: Iicd j]iu that I hi LLkf-
n««-, of his afmstl« Paul and Filer, and o: : liri,: himself jn1 preserved in palntin^i grapfmis L/irLiiNLi rau thc ancLcnls belnp atcuslomcd- ■■ - i ■ is likely, HKLLirdiilji, [■> ¡i hntiic hi1 (hi ("rf n1 iI?i,, tn pay ihis kind n"if honor indite ri mill jidy [fn lhoic regm-ded tn1 thiin js ddivrjers-^
Eusebius's •¿•■-n:mcnt here has strong parallels with the rnuch c.li litr C i i-tique that Irenaeus launches against the Carpncraiians, who honored portraits of fesus with garlands and probably ^^ i:h prayers, and, ir par ticular, one reported to have bet n made t>y Ronlius Pilate. Irenaeus fui ihi:r claim* that these images ■ I <!hi iit were -,lL up on a pat with images of Pythagoras, Plato, and Aristotle, which to him was typical or fhe behavior tit .1 eerlain ki:nl t( (inostic. 11 ^ l- lake these two testimonies together even widely iepatiJi chronological time, ^l- might conclude that the making and honoring ot religious portraits were typically ,r- -1.11. ia Led with hl1 1 l1 1 il .l* groups, pagans, ot well-meaning but misguided recent converts who continued t-.: practice what these Chris tian leaders considered to be "old idolatrous customs."
Tin.- authenticity uJ Eusebius's letter has been challenged on other grounds as ^vL.■||. One leading theory suggests that il may be a forgery from .1 111 1 l j 11 ate t period, incorporated 11 j E-. = \he florilegia of thc icono l'I.Mk in mkl-iighlb n-i! lurj. and refuted 111 the acts of the Seventh Ecumenical Council (7E7 c.e ).' As we have noted, Eusetiius s itleolog-
ifj] arguments .seem to be more characteristic of the disputes 1 the erii ot" iconoclasm than from the theological polemics ot :he mid fourth century. I r 1 l- difficulty o: showing dual natures of Christ in a single portrait image I-1 arguably have been understood onlyaficr the terms had been sei in the c histological controversies 1 r the next century.
Whether nr n*it we accept Fu.Hcbius-'s letter as authentic, additional .iin.I somewhat mure reliably authentic testimony to the resist;to ( hristian portrailure in thc late fourth century uan be ^i:lL in this regard. i mI Iragmenti of the writings of Epiphanius of Salamis, otherwise known rur his condemnation oi L:. variety of heresies, attack thc practice ot making i-ilI honoring images ol (hesaints, particularly those
Was this article helpful?