Gallery of reconstructed portraits

Created: 2004
Published: 2004

The reconstructed portrait of Jesus of Nazareth

Jesus of Nazareth

Being the son of a construction worker, Jesus of Nazareth (*6 bce–†30 ce, his parents named him ‘Yeshua’, in Aramaic) spent his childhood in the Roman province of Galilee, in a village called Nazareth (nowadays Al-Nasira, an Arab city in Israel). He was educated within the traditional Jewish culture and religion. Nevertheless, as an adult, he joined the supporters of an alternative preacher. Next he took the role of reformer upon himself and wandered with his own faithful followers through the country. Jesus of Nazareth taught the value of poverty, mercy, and non-violence, he helped to cure the ill with his persuasiveness, and he announced the coming of a ‘Kingdom of God’. He was a charismatic leader and he became very popular among the common people, but his doctrines challenged the authority of both the religious and the political rulers. When Jesus of Nazareth finally advanced towards Jerusalem, where he publicly protested against commercial activities within the temple, the class of Jewish supreme priests judged that he had crossed the line. They handed Jesus of Nazareth over to the Roman governor and he was, in turn, gladly willing to put him to death. After his death, his retinue kept on expanding and it gradually broke away from Judaism, boosted by mythical biographies that were passed around. In these (Greek) writings Jesus of Nazareth was retroactively given the role of liberator and ‘Anointed One’ (Christos). The community of ‘Christians’ would unexpectedly grow into one of the largest of the world religions, with great effect in Europe and America. Wilson gives a detailed analysis of this historical and historic Jesus.

How should we picture the appearance of Jesus of Nazareth? In the scripts of his followers nothing is mentioned about his build, his dress, or his hairstyle. It's clear though that Jesus of Nazareth dressed like a man of simple descent. He probably first worked, just like his father, in the building trade and he criticized people who tried to draw attention with their clothes. The kethoneth was the garment that a Jewish craftsman at the time usually wore. It was a long shirt with loose, half-long sleeves and a wide belt or a sash round the waist. The kethoneth reached until the knees and in accordance with Jewish regulations — but also fitting the fashion in the whole region — its border had been fringed. Similar garments were reproduced on the Black Obelisk of Shalmaneser III. Sandals were the current footwear. Jewish middle-aged men wore a full beard, a moustache, and the hair not longer than down to the neck. Long, unkempt hair wasn't appreciated, except as a sign of mourning.

Which style was generally accepted at the time of Jesus of Nazareth? The Jewish tradition didn't allow the depiction of humans. A Jewish artist therefore never made any portraits. Yet a non-Jewish contemporary could have made a portrait of Jesus of Nazareth. A Roman is the most obvious candidate, for the early Christians remained image-less too, at least for the next two centuries. The many frescos that have survived in Pompeii are appropriate examples of Roman painting in the first century ce. This Roman style is fairly realistic and it's characterized by colourful images that were built up from transparent, sketchy brush strokes. Some details aren't entirely true to life, caused by the swiftness with which they were reproduced, but much time was spent on depicting faces. The representations contain depth, suggested with shadows and imitation of natural incidence of light. The rules of perspective were applied only to the reproduction of (elements of) architecture. The backgrounds were in general hardly refined and they often just consist of a gradient transition between two or more colours. The representations were mostly framed decoratively.

The following details were included in the reconstructed portrait. Jesus of Nazareth was depicted as master, dressed in a kethoneth, with a sash round his waist, sandals at his feet, and a simple, but well-kempt hairstyle that fits his age and origin. Religious symbols (like nimbus, cross, throne, lamb, or bible) were not incorporated in the reconstruction, for the possible creator of the portrait is an observer, not a believer.

Do you have a suggestion or remark concerning this reconstruction? All comments are much appreciated.


  • Ian Wilson, Jesus: the Evidence. The Latest Research and Discoveries Investigated (London 1996 ce).
  • Black Obelisk of Shalmaneser III, Great Britain: London: The British Museum, me 118885 (Al-Iraq 825 bce). This black, limestone monument (2 m. high) was discovered in 1846 ce by British archaeologists in Nimrud, the former Assyrian capital of Kalhu. Images on the stone show how delegations from various neighbouring nations of Assyria pay tribute to King Shalmaneser III, next to glorifying cuneiform inscriptions. Particularly the animal escorts wear a garment that looks like a kethoneth.
  • Frescos from Pompeii, Italia: Napoli: Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli (Pompeii up till 79 ce). In 79 ce the Roman city of Pompeii was surprised by an eruption of the adjacent volcano. Rocks and ashes rained down and covered the city, causing large parts of the buildings with murals, floors, and ornaments to be preserved. From the 18th century ce onwards excavations have begun and many frescos, mosaics, and sculptures have been conserved and transferred to the museum in Napels ever since.

Alternatives for ‘Jesus of Nazareth’: Jezus / Jesus / Jésus / Jesús / Iesus / Iesous / Isa / Yeshua / Yehoshuavan Nazareth / van Nazaret / von Nazareth / of Nazareth / de Nazareth / de Nazaré / de Nazaret / Christ / Cristo / Christus / ChristosJésus-Christ / Jesucristo.

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