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Engaging Faith: Practical lesson ideas and activities for Catholic Educators

November 15, 2016

Christ Portrayed

Ask the students to do an Internet search to find links for the following paintings. Each selection presents a different dimension of Christ. As they view the paintings, ask them to answer:

  • What is the message of the artist?
  • Why do you think different artists see the same subject so differently?
  • Which of these paintings speaks most forcefully to you? Why is this so?

Icon of the Holy Savior— Artist Unknown

This thirteenth-century mosaic found in the great Byzantine Church, Hagia Sophia, in Istanbul (Constantinople) is based on a sixth-century icon from the Greek monastery of Mount Athos. The mosaic shows Jesus with his hand raised in benediction as he holds the Bible. This is no purely human Jesus. He is robed in Royal Purple and is surrounded by a halo that signifies his eternal nature. This icon is often called a visual representation of the teachings of the Council of Chalcedon, which said that Christ was true God and true man.

The Creation of Adam—Michelangelo Buonaroti (1475–1584)

This depiction of the creation of Adam is the centerpiece of the large fresco found on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. In this painting, Michelangelo depicts the eternal nature of God, who creates man out of nothing by a gesture of his hand. God is seen as surrounded by angels. To stress his eternal nature, God is represented as a mature man with the muscular body of a youth.

Madonna and Child Enthroned with Saints—Raffaello (Raphael) Sanzio (1463–1520)

In this painting, the Infant Jesus and the Madonna are seen enthroned in Heaven as Jesus is worshipped by several saints, including the infant John the Baptist, Peter, Paul, Catherine, and Cecilia. The fact that these saints lived in different centuries stresses the fact that, for  God, there is no past or future. His time is not chronological (measurable and sequential time) but kairological (time that is not bound by sequence or measurement but rather by emotional significance). He lives in an eternal “now,” where all are alive for him.

And Veronica is still among us with her veil of compassion . . . (Et Véronique au tendre lin, passe encore sur le chemin . . .)—Georges Rouault (1871–1958)

Rouault was a devout Catholic and his artistic works stress the human sufferings of the Divine Christ .The artist was trained in producing stained glass. This medium is prominent in his paintings and etchings. Horrified by the devastation of World War I, Rouault constructed a series of fifty etchings from 1917–1927 that he titled The Miserere (“Have Pity on Me”). These etchings focus on the life of Christ and the horrors of contemporary war and exploitation of the poor. The particular etching cited here brings to life the legend of Veronica’s veil. According to this legend, a young woman named Veronica wiped the bloody face of Jesus with her veil as he made his way on the road to crucifixion. In gratitude for her compassion, Christ left the imprint of his sorrowful face on her veil.

The Black Christ—Ronald Harrison

Harrison, a South African citizen, painted this image of Christ in 1962 during the worst days of violence of the apartheid regime in South Africa, which segregated blacks from the rest of the population. Harrison portrays Christ in the image of Albert Luthuli, a South African leader of black Africans, being crucified by the white political leaders of South Africa, John Vorster, and Hendrik Verwoerd. The painting once was displayed in St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. In this painting, Harrison emphasizes the human nature of Christ and His solidarity with the oppressed and marginalized.







  1. The Shroud of Turin is an ancient piece of cloth that many people believe is the burial shroud of Jesus that has imprinted on it the face and body of the crucified Christ People who believe that the shroud is authentic also believe that the face imprinted on the shroud accounts for the similarity of the images of Christ’s face found on ancient icons. Look at the image of the face on the Shroud of Turin, paying special attention to certain features, like nose, forehead, hair color and length, shape of the face, eyes, etc. Compare it with five Byzantine icons of Christ. How are they similar?
  2. Compare the different way that Michelangelo represents God the Creator in his painting of “The Creation of Adam,” and how James Weldon Johnson represents God the Creator in his poem, “The Creation.”
  3. What are the similarities and differences in the depiction of the Infant Jesus in Raphael’s painting, The Madonna and Child Enthroned with Saints and Southwell’s poem, “The Burning Babe”?
  4. Christ is true God and true man with both divine and human natures. Compare The Icon of the Holy Savior with Rouault’s image And Veronica is still among us with her veil of compassion. . . . How does each painting reflect and focus on the human and divine nature of Christ?
  5. View Fra Angelico’s great paintings The Annunciation and Christ Crowned with Thorns. Then read the following poem, “Questions for Fra Angelico,” which tells how one sensitive viewer reacted to these masterpieces.. The author of the poem, Annabelle Mosely, is a an American poet who composed this work after a visit to the Museum of St. Mark in Florence. Fra Angelico was known and revered as one of the great artists of the Renaissance as much for his sanctity as for his brilliance. In the convent of San Marco in Florence, he decorated each monk’s cell with frescos that portrayed the life of Christ, the Virgin Mary, and the saints. The Annunciation, perhaps the most famous painting of this episode in the life of the Virgin, is on display at this convent.

This  activity is taken from the book The Catholic Spirit: An Anthology for Discovering Faith through Literature, Art, Film and Music.(Ave Maria Press, 2010). 

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