Rembrandt van Rijn (1606-1669), the greatest master painter of the Dutch Golden Age, kept in his bedroom two of his own paintings called Head of Christ. A third painting – identified as a Head of Christ, from life – was found in a bin in Rembrandt’s studio, awaiting use as a model for a New Testament composition.
Today eight paintings survive that fit this description, all painted by Rembrandt and his pupils between 1643 and 1655. Bust-length portraits, they show the same young man familiar from traditional artistic conceptions of Christ; yet each figure also bears a slightly different expression.
In posing an ethnographically correct model, Rembrandt overturned the entire history of Christian art, which had relied on rigidly copied phototypes for Christ, which were not overtly Semitic Jewish in appearance. This exhibit at the Philadelphia Museum of Art reunites, for the first time, the eight paintings of this exceedingly rare and singular series, complemented by more than 50 related paintings, prints, and drawings.