Picks and Pans Review: His Face

updated 11/21/1988 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 11/21/1988 AT 01:00 AM EST

Edited by Marion Wheeler

Since long before anyone heard of Martin Scorsese, artists have faced a lot of difficulties trying to render the image of Jesus Christ. And they have gone ahead and tried and tried to do it anyway. Looking at some of their attempts in this book is intellectually fascinating and often aesthetically thrilling. Wheeler, a Massachusetts freelance writer and editor, was inspired to collect these 95 portraits of Christ (some of them are details of larger works) after noticing how frequently Christ's face appeared in the great art museums around the world. Her selections include portrayals of Christ as an infant—Lodovico Carracci's Dream of St. Catherine of Alexandria (c. 1590) is stunning—as well as such adult versions as Nicolaes Maes's 17th-century Christ Blessing the Children and Salvador Dali's Sacrament of the Last Supper, the most recent work in the book. The expressions on Christ's face vary widely. Mona Lisa, painted in 1503, could well have inspired The Savior by Marco D'Oggiono, a notorious Leonardo imitator who lived from 1470 to about 1530. Velázquez' Christ After the Flagellation Contemplated by the Christian Soul (1626-28) is almost too full of pain to look at. Titian's Temptation of Christ (c. 1535) even looks a bit like Willem Dafoe. After her brief preface, Wheeler limits the text to relevant excerpts from the King James Version of the New Testament, which, if you have to limit yourself to something, is not a bad choice. This is a book for students of Christianity, students of art and anyone interested in humanity's relentless struggle to comprehend its gods. (Chameleon, $24.95)

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