Articles From the March 1994 Unification News


The Portrait of Jesus

by Madelene Pretorius - Manhattan Center Studios

Manhattan Centers latest video, under Hyo Jin Nim's direction is entitled The Portrait of Jesus: A Shade of Difference which investigates the transformation that the image of Jesus has undergone through the centuries. Since the visual depiction's of Jesus is almost a recapitulation of the history of Christianity, the video outlines a history of Christianity and how it is reflected in the paintings of each timeperiod.

Despite the fact that no historical likeness exist of Jesus, it seems that one commonly recognized Eurocentric portrait has become accepted by the popular culture all over the world. The video is specifically poised at researching the factors that have influenced the choices that people have made, in identify an image as visually resembling the historical Jesus, and why a particular image is popular in representing what Jesus looked like most, during a certain time period.

To this extent the video pictorially traces the representations of Jesus from the earliest depiction's in the first centuries up until the development of the popular European image which has been shaped by Hollywood, Commercialism and Advertising. It would appear that under immense cultural influences from the west, especially through media images, that non-Europeans still seek to adapt and emulate Western civilization which includes that of a very Eurocentric image of Christ. Although the transformation in the image of Jesus has been a developmental process beginning from the early representations of Christ through to the Renaissance, it was not until the nineteenth and twentieth century that the popular image of Jesus as we know it today had been effectively spread to all four corners of the globe.

The video features interviews with world class art historians and academics from institutions such as Harvard, Yale and Graduate Theological Union, addressing important issues such as cultural imperialism, pluralism and the relationship of the Church towards the Arts as it pertains to the image of Jesus.

As Prof. Margaret Miles (Harvard Divinity School) states, once Jesus as a historical figure becomes a media images one has to ask questions as to what are the power dynamics, and the institutions that are ratified by a particular figure. To this extent therefore all the portraits of Jesus are built on human imagination, and reflect the longings of the people who designed them and the people who used them in pious practice and worship.

In the twentieth century the images of Jesus has evolved into a degree of universalism. Christ has become equally accessible to all people, with equal intimacy The content of the video wishes to revitalize a Jesus more like his self expression as we find in scripture discourage the influence of an image that is tied to a single class or culture or race.

Thus Harvey Cox, professor of Divinity at Harvard Divinity School states that the majority of Christians in the world today are not of European extraction which has had a profound change both in the theology and the worship of Christianity and also in the depiction's of Jesus. There are now multiple depiction's and visualizations from all different kinds of cultures.

Through exploring the nature and power of images in the video we have discovered a wealth of images that have been created throughout the centuries. Treat yourself to a collage of conversation and visual presentations.

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