28th Apr 2008

Image of Christ?

A 4th century mosaic was discovered in the remains of a Roman villa at Hinton St. Mary in Dorset in 1963. At the centre is a portrait of a man superimposed on the Christian Chi-Rho symbol, and on the basis of that symbol it’s universally identified as a picture of Christ. Here’s what it looks like:

Doesn’t look much like the traditional image of Christ, does it? He’s clean-shaven and wearing a toga. The Romans may have co-opted Christianity, but they never claimed Christ was a Roman.

Here’s a photo of the statue known as the Collossus of Constantine – a portrait of the emperor who legalised Christianity, and is supposed to have had a vision instructing him to conquer in the sign of the Chi-Rho.

The same cleft chin. The same broad face and narrow mouth. The same eyes and eyebrows. The same haircut. That mosaic image isn’t Christ – it’s Constantine!

11 Responses to “Image of Christ?”

  1. Gunnar Says:

    Or both are Christ? It’s the same face!

  2. Mary Jones Says:

    On the one hand, the early Eastern images of Christ depict him as a young, beardless man, sometimes in a toga–whether his image was being conflated with Dionysus or Apollo or not I have no idea, but it’s certainly similar.

    On the other hand, given the prominence of Constantine in Britain and later Welsh myth, I don’t see why it shouldn’t be him. I can certainly see the resemblance.

  3. paddybrown Says:

    Somebody else, on an email list I’m on, suggested that early images of Christ were based on Apollo, and I suppose it’s also possible that the Constantine Colossus was also sculpted to look Apollonian. On the other hand, the images of Apollo I’m familiar with are very slim and graceful – he looks like a ballet dancer (Dionysus is similar in his youthful guise, but with rather more hair). These two images, to my mind, are of someone rather heavier-set – and I find it hard to look at them and not see the same person.

    Do you have any links to any of these clean-shaven, toga-wearing eastern Christs? I’d be interested to compare.

  4. Mary Jones Says:

    I can see what you mean about the mosaic likely being Constantine; I just thought I’d bring up the Eastern Christ.

    As for some images, I know I have some in some art books I left at my parents house, but Google gave me the following:

    And of course there’s always Michelangelo’s Last Judgement.

  5. Mary Jones Says:

    OK, tried posting yesterday, don’t think it worked. Anyway, a quick look at Google brings up the following:

    The Arians seemed to prefer a young, beardless Christ; a few items from Ravenna:

    An early 4th C fresco:

    The Muiredach Cross:

  6. paddybrown Says:

    Interesting links, Mary. That San Vitale one is particularly good. Hard to see if any of them have any particular resemblance to the Constantine Colossus, unfortunately – it doesn’t strike me as outlandish that images of Christ and Constantine might have been harmonised.

    Apologies for your stuff not posting – my anti-spam thing saw all the links, thought your posts were spam and binned them, and I’ve been ill for several weeks and it never occurred to me to check the bin until today.

  7. » Blog Archive » “Face of Christ” revisited Says:

    […] posted a piece last month ago about how the supposed image of Christ found in a mosaic floor at Hinton St. Mary […]

  8. Ciorst Says:

    Archaeologists have long recognised the resemblance to Constantine (and considered the added significance of using his image to represent Christ). This may be mentioned in:

    Henig, Martin 1993, The Art of Roman Britain, p.3?, and possibly:

    Scott, Eleanor 1993 A gazetteer of Roman villas in Britain, p.53

    It took until 2007 for a specific article to be written, though (published 2008). See:

    Pearce, Susan ‘The Hinton St Mary Mosaic Pavement: Christ or Emperor?’, Britannia, Volume 39, Number 1, November 2008 , pp. 193-218(26)

  9. paddybrown Says:

    So I’m not the first to note the resemblance after all? Ah well. I’ll have to look up the Pearce article.

  10. Historical possibilities – the Roman invasion of Britain « Patrick Brown’s other blog Says:

    […] October 2009 I posted about a year and a half ago that I thought the supposed image of Christ on the Hinton St. Mary mosaic looked more like the emperor Constantine, and last month got left a comment by Ciorst saying that archaeologists had been saying this for […]

  11. » Blog Archive » Historical possibilities on my other blog Says:

    […] year on my other blog I suggested that the supposed image of Christ on the Hinton St. Mary mosaic looked more like the emperor Constantine, to positive response – it turns out that other, more reputable sources had already made the […]

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