Icons of Our Lord
The first icon of Jesus, this Holy Napkin or Mandylion, is the prototype or pattern by which all subsequent icons of Christ are reproduced. We still have today the heritage of this unbroken tradition of color and form which go back to the very first days of Christianity. Christ is always shown with long brown hair with reddish highlights, parted in the middle and falling on either side of his head down past his shoulders. His eyes are brown and large and expressive, looking forward with a direct gaze, and He has a longish straight nose, a small mouth, a short full beard (usually with right and left tufts), and a deep olive toned complexion with reddish highlights.
Because iconographic art is not just from the imaginative faculty of man, but was revealed from on high and hearkens back to the actual features of who is being depicted from real life, we have a great consistency of patterns, often expressed in different icon pattern books that describe just how to paint any particular subject that has already been depicted. So it is with this understanding that we look at the icons of Jesus Christ, and use them to pray to God for the salvation of our souls.
Even though we have such patterns that have been revealed to us by Holy Tradition, the icons themselves are not merely well produced images of the natural state of those they represent, but actually show, as far as is humanly possible, a revelation of the subject as it appears at the end of time, in the Kingdom of Heaven. Since Jesus Christ was both human and Divine, it is important to know that this is never lost in His icons, for they always show more than mere humanity, for we know from the Gospels and Holy Tradition that He was always consciously aware of being the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, even at the moment of His Birth in this world, and He never forgot this even for a moment. That is why often in icons of Christ young or even as an infant, we see Him with an adult head and awareness.
In the earliest surviving examples of iconography that depict Christ, His image is often shown with more natural light and shadow than in later icons. In the 6th century icons of Christ still extant, such as the Pantocrator (meaning Ruler of All) from Sinai (J24), the Redeemer Enthroned from Ravenna (J71), and the mosaic of Christ from the Transfiguration icon at Sinai (J33, J34, F65), this can be clearly seen. Even earlier portraits of Christ as a youth still have a serenity and presence that is unearthly, such as the Good Shepherd icon from Ravenna (J69, J91). In the later icons, Christ’s immanent Glory emanates outward from an inner light not affected by earthly light and seems to radiate from within. In all cases we are seeing the God-man before us calling us up to His Everlasting and Blessed Kingdom.
There are many types of icons here of Christ, such as The Holy Napkin (J12, J29, J46, J47, J55, J58, J67, J80), Pantocrator (many examples), the Face of Christ (J08, J17, J25, J34, J44, J68, J70, J95, J96), Christ Blessing (many examples), Christ Enthroned (J09, J13, J15, J27, J50, J59, J71), the Deisis or icon with Saints in Supplication to Him (J35, J39, J41, J43, J48, J49, J66), The Great High Priest (J07, J22, J51, J60, J89), Nymphios or the Bridegroom (J05, J06, J31, J37, J74), Extreme Humility in the grave (J32, J73, J93), the Good Shepherd (J69, J75, J91), Emmanuel (J38, J83, J93), Christ as the Angel of Holy Silence (J87) or the Angel of Great Counsel (F35), Christ Reclining (J10), and others.
They are made of many materials and in many cultures and times, but in every case, they are made with the understanding that we must open these “windows into Heaven,” as the Holy Fathers have called them, and reach past the art and beauty to the Lord that calls us through these Holy Icons to Him.