Jesus1 Variant and Changing Appearances in

Although later (Rv/antinc and early medieval) representations of lesus have a remarkable degree of consistency, the earliest artistic portrayals of Christ (in the third and fourth centuries) show significant inconsistency Sometimes Christ appears as youth led and beardless, some times as older, with full beard. Of course* he is also shown {or symbolized) through the familiar visual metaphors of shepherd, lamb, or even fisher. One possible explanation for these varying presentations is that it simply took time for artists and their clients to achieve the "right look" for lesus, perhaps struggling to find the key combination of features and attributes that conveyed his dua! naturesj while still honoring some ancient traditions or memories concerning his physical appearance.

Fig. 60. Sarcophagus with O d Testament rjnd NewTcM.-L-msnt scenes, ^th cen c.ñ., Museo Rio Cristiano, Vafean City (Pnctc: Author).

A survey of the extant examples (coming mainly from the environs of Rome) shows us that most of the earliest recognizable iconography of Jesus presents him as a beardless and beautiful youth > although in rare instances he also appears as bearded and more mature in appearance. When he appears as youthful, he most often Ls shown within narrative compositions referring to his role as healer and wonderworker (fig, 60). In the earliest examples of Jesus shown with a beard, he generally appears as a teacher (figs.. 61—62). By the mid-fourth century, the bearded type began to appear in nonteaching contexts, a shift that may be I irked with a general trend away from narrative images of healing and wonderworking and toward visual references to his passion, ascension (enthronement in heaven), and the giving of the new law (fig. 63). At the end of the fourth century, when the first true "portrait^1 of Jesus began to appear* the dark and bearded appearance was becoming standard and seems to be the precursor to the standard iconic presentation of Christ's image in the later Byzantine period.

Fig. 60. Sarcophagus with O d Testament rjnd NewTcM.-L-msnt scenes, ^th cen c.ñ., Museo Rio Cristiano, Vafean City (Pnctc: Author).

Fig 61 .Sarcophagus fragment, early- 4th ter\CE, Museo Nazionale (Palazzo Massimo allelemne). Rome (Fhoto; Author),

Christian sarcophagus 4"th cen C E.h Musée de l'Arles Ant que (Photot Author)

Fig, 63. Jesus giving the Law on 4"th cen. C£. sarcophagus Musée de l'Arles Antique (Photo: Author).

Fig (A. Apse moiajc, rnid-4lh cen, c.E. fron the Mausoteunr ofCon^tantina, Rome (©The International Catacomb Society. Photo: Estellt Brettman).

However, the final transition to a bearded iconic type happened gradually, and for some time both types (youthful and mature) coexisted, sometimes juxtaposed within a single space without raising apparent concern (or at least not enough to warrant removal of one or the other image). For example, in the mausoleum of Santa Con stanza (Constantino's daughter) are two markedly different presentations of Jesus— although some scholars see them as representing God the Father and Jesus. Although both mosaics are clearly from the same date and workshop, they may be slightly later additions to the building (perhaps in the late fourth or early fifth century) and their extensive restoration makes scholars doubtful about their original composition. However, the contrasting Jesus iconography still appears to be both intentional and ancient21 In one, Christ is youthful, fair-haired, and light skinned, with blue eyes. He has only the hint of a blond beard (no mustache) and stands upon the rock of Calvary handing a scroll of the law to Haul, He wears a white tunic (with bine stripes, davi, from shoulder to hem) and pallium. In the other, Christ (or perhaps God the Father) is shown having a full beard and is seated upon the orb of the cosmos. His tunic is a rich, royal purple with two gold stripes. Roth figures have haloes in shades of blue, but otherwise their presentation is strikingly different (figs. 64-65).26

One explanation for the continuance of these contrasting images is that such a variation made a theological point or argument in a visual mode. Perhaps a polymorphous presentation of Christ was seen as truer than a single static and consistent visual appearance. The texts, after all, suggest that during his life Jesus may have taken on different manifesto-

Fg. ¿S.Apse mosaic, imic 4th cen. C.E, from the Mausoleum of Constating, Rome {Photo; Author).

tions, projecting different exterior features, perhaps in response to the need, expectation, ability, or even requirements of different viewers. From this vantage point, the Christian God recognized and accommodated viewer subjectivity as well as capacity for variety* Moreover, a changing exterior also paralleled Christ with the other gods and then trumped them, too. Christ's presentation in dliferent guises was then less a result of confusion than an aim to show his superiority to the gods of the Roman pantheon, who also could appear in different forms or guises but for sometimes less beneficent purposes (according to Christian writers),'7 In any case, divine ability to change form was a certain sign of a god's power and craft.

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