Image making in the dark

Did you know that the Dark Ages weren’t as dark as we’ve been led to believe? So says art critic Waldemar Januszczak, and he demonstrates this convincingly in the first of a new BBC series on art immediately following the end of the Roman Empire.

The first film deals with the beginnings and flowering of Christian art, from cryptic symbols scratched on walls, to fabulous mosaics and paintings of Jesus and other biblical characters.

One of his fascinating arguments is that the ancient artists borrowed their idea of what Jesus looked like from existing pagan art. So the earliest Jesus figures, made when it was dangerous to be Christian, were modelled on Apollo, god of the sun. In these, Jesus is young, beardless with curly hair, and looks a softy. Later, when the empire made Christianity official, it needed to project stern religious authority, so the big-bearded, hairy-Zeus-look came into favour. Then, as a counter-balance to this heavy masculinity, the cult of Mary was developed and, argues Waldemar, Mary’s mother and child images were based on the similar mother and baby images of the Egyptian earth-mother god Isis. (Gasp!!)

At Colchester Vineyard, we’re trying to get a better picture of Jesus, but it would seem that the old, beautiful statues and mosaics leave us in the dark. Thankfully, we have some amazing records written not long after Jesus was around and they describe not his looks, but his character, his power, his passion, his world-changing ideas and, crucially, his love for the world and the people in it.

If you too would like to get a better picture of Jesus, you could tag along with us as we make our discoveries. Give us a call on 01206 622 712 or email – we’d love to hear from you.