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December 16, 2013

christ copticPart of the mural at the Monastery of Saint Apollo showing Christ flanked by two angels: Christ’s face


In a previous article, I have spoken about the Monastery of Saint Apollo at Bawit, Egypt, and the oldest-known Coptic icon, that of Christ and Abbot Mena. One can observe in the brilliant paintings at that Monastery of Saint Apollo the lively and expressive facial features of the individuals painted – all inspired by local types. All nations have imaged Christ on their own kind, and the Copts are no exception.

I show here above part of the mural painting at Bawit that shows Christ flanked by two angels (below, I show the whole painting): it is dated to the 6th/7th century. In Christ’s facial features and physiognomy one can recognise a Copt, an Egyptian man in his early thirties. This is how the Coptic artist Egyptianised (Copticised) Christ (if I can express it in this way): large, almond-shaped eyes, straight nose and dark, curly hair. The physiognomy (the facial features held to show qualities of mind or character) of Christ here is Egyptian – Christian Egyptian or Copt.

 Christ and angelsThe mural at the Monastery of Saint Apollo showing Christ flanked by two angels

3 Comments leave one →
  1. December 17, 2013 12:50 am

    In some respects, the image painted by the artist is idealized and may have little or no resemblance to what Christ actually looked like; whose lineage is Semitic.

    • Dioscorus Boles permalink*
      December 17, 2013 11:44 am

      Very true. Artists do not draw Christ as a Jewish person in facial features but every nation depicted Christ in its own image. We have seen Roman Christ, Greek Christ, Anglo-Saxon Christ, Nubian Christ, Ethiopian Christ, Chinese Christ, etc. The Copts also had their Egyptian Christ – He bore the physical features in His face of a Coptic man in his thirties. But I go beyond that, and read the physiognomy of the Egyptian Christ: What expressions does He reveal? What character does He carry? This is a fascinating subject. It shows how the Copts used art to show the inner qualities of the divine that can be read in the eyes, the look, the mouth, the posture, etc.



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