Why St. Paul was *not* given a philosopher's face
#1
http://www.cornellsociety.org/2009/07/wh...hers-face/

You’ve probably all seen the story about St. Paul supposedly being given a philosopher’s face.  That is to say, some modern art historians think that St. Paul was first painted the way he traditionally is painted in Church iconography in order to portray him as a philosopher with a stereotypical philosopher’s face.  See the article here:  http://chiesa.espresso.repubblica.it/art...9103?eng=y  I started reading the article and then promptly stopped when I read the following, which is one of the premises of the argument:

“Portraiture was very widespread in Greek and Roman art. But in Jewish culture, human images were forbidden, and therefore it was unthinkable that Paul and the others would have themselves depicted. It was only later that the Church accepted the depiction of figures of the Christian faith.”

This is a heaping pile of fool.ish.ness.  Re-read the “argument.”  St. Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles, the saint most responsible for *dispensing with the customs of the Old Law,* would be so devoted to “Jewish culture” that he would refuse to allow his portrait to be painted?  Huh?  ”Jewish culture” also required circumcision and a kosher diet and we all know how devoted to those customs St. Paul was.  Rejection of portraiture is not one of the four requirements made of Gentile converts at the Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15).  Far from it being “unthinkable” that St. Paul would permit the painting of saints’ portraits, it seems to me unthinkable that he would ban such artwork on the grounds that it was opposed to “Jewish culture.”  I doubt he’d let himself be painted during his own lifetime — fine, but that’s personal modesty, not some Jewish opposition to iconography.  And who said that he *sat* for such a painting?  Why couldn’t people who knew him have painted his likeness?  Or passed down in writing what his general appearance was?

Furthermore, Church tradition is absolutely opposed to the idea that St. Paul hated painting.  One of his disciples was St. Luke, the one Gentile Evangelist.  St. Luke is the patron saint of painters because he painted images of the Blessed Virgin while she was still alive.  So ecclesiastical tradition says that St. Paul’s devoted pupil painted images of saints, indeed of the Queen of the Saints.  So why is it unthinkable that St. Luke painted St. Paul’s image after the Apostle’s martyrdom (if St. Luke outlived him, which I think he did, although I don’t know for certain).  Or that St. Luke’s disciples painted images of Sts. Peter and Paul?

Now, I say that I stopped reading the article after I read that nails-on-chalkboard nonsense above, so I do not know what  other points are made in it.  I do allow that St. Paul’s traditional portrait does resemble depictions of philosophers.  And who says that he did not actually look like a philosopher, after all?  St. Paul writes some very lofty passages and he did converse with Stoics and Epicureans in the Areopagus (Acts 17:16-34).  He who was all things to all men was a philosopher to Athenian philosophers.  So yes, it may well be that he’s portrayed in philosopher mode and not in tentmaker mode.  He certainly isn’t painted wearing the phylacteries of a Pharisee.  So the basic idea that a saint who was rather overtly philosophical should be painted that way isn’t surprising.  But it’s nonsense to say that the portraits couldn’t have  been based on his actual appearance because of Jewish opposition to portraiture.
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#2
Here's the rest of the article that wasn't read:

Quote: Here is the evocative explanation given by Professor Antonio Paolucci, director of the Vatican Museums and a great art historian, in presenting the exhibition on St. Paul:

"The problem was posed between the third and fourth centuries, when a Church that had become widespread and well structured made the great and brilliant wager that is at the basis of our entire artistic history. It accepted and made its own the world of images, and accepted it in the forms in which the Greco-Roman stylistic and iconographic traditions had developed it. It was in this way is that Christ the Good Shepherd took on the appearance of Pheobus Apollo or Orpheus, and that Daniel in the lion's den had the appearance of Hercules, the victorious nude athlete.

"But how could one represent Peter and Paul, the princes of the apostles, the pillars of the Church, the foundations of the hierarchy and doctrine? Someone got a good idea. He gave the first apostles the appearance of the first philosophers. So Paul, bald, bearded, with the serious and focused air of the intellectual, had the appearance of Plato or perhaps of Plotinus, while that of Aristotle was given to the pragmatic and worldly Peter, who has the task of guiding the professing and militant Church through the snares of the world."

* * *
If this is what happened, then the Church in the early centuries had no reservations about attributing to the apostles, and to Paul in particular, the title of philosopher, nor of handing down, studying, and proclaiming in its entirety his thought, which is certainly not easy to understand and accept.

The same can be said of the Fathers of the Church. In a phase of Christianity in expansion, in a phase in which the transmission of the Christian faith to the Gentiles was in full development, the Church never considered watering down or domesticating its own message in order to make it more acceptable to the men of the time.

The depiction of Paul the philosopher is an eloquent warning to those who today deny relevance to a pope theologian like Benedict XVI, a modern Father of the Church. - by Sandro Magister
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#3
Bonifacius, St. Paul might have been the Apostle to the Gentiles but he himself was still a Jew. Not imposing circumcision on Gentile converts doesn't mean he abandoned his own culture. I don't think it's far-fetched at all to say that the apostles and early Jewish Christians shunned images. Do we have any images, paintings, portraits, sculptures or busts handed down to us from the ancient Jews? Or even the Christian Jews? The earliest depictions of Christian art (that I'm aware of) are in the Roman catacombs. Do we have any evidence of iconography in Jewish catacombs? I know there are inscriptions and symbols like menorahs and palm leaves, but are there human images? I'm asking..

- Lisa
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#4
Lisa,

I figured that the rest of the article would be argued more or less in the manner of the quotation you provided.  Note:  I never said that the traditional portrayal of philosophers in Greco-Roman art did not influence the portrayal of St. Paul.  I simply denied the reason given for thinking that these portrayals cannot be derived from paintings from life.

In response to your post, it is not particularly important that Jews rejected portraiture (something I never disputed) because, as I noted above, one should not draw inferences about Christian custom from Jewish custom, even/especially in the case of St. Paul.  We should not simply and brazenly *assume* (which is what the article does) that St. Paul objected to painting because he was Jewish because the same logic would make him practice circumcision upon Gentile converts, which he did not do. Whether St. Paul considered himself a cultural Jew after his conversion is not very relevant (and he said that he made himself all things to all men, so to the Gentile he would be a Gentile).   It is only relevant whether he would have imposed a Jewish-style ban on portraiture upon Gentiles. The burden of proof is on those who claim that early Christians shunned portraiture because of the influence of Jewish culture.  In the absence of written evidence in support of such conscious avoidance, the purported absence of portraiture (I don't know enough to call into question the claim that such portraits are absent -- so I'll concede it *for the point of argumentation*) can be attributed to other causes than some Judaic custom.  For instance, they might not  have wanted to be recognized by pagans and hence avoided overtly Christian art in tombs, etc. (This wouldn't have prevented other types of paintings that have since perished.) By portraying Christ as an Apollonian Good Shepherd, the Christian nature of the artwork could be hidden from pagans; similarly, the Japanese Christians portrayed the Blessed Virgin in the manner of native goddesses so that the statues would be overlooked.  I simply don't see why the author of the article assumes that Christians objected to portraiture; one should not simply infer that Christians maintained a Jewish custom simply because it was Jewish. 

Then there's the tradition of St. Luke, which I mentioned above.  You mentioned "the apostles and early Jewish Christians."  Fine, maybe *they* didn't use paintings (but we still shouldn't assume this) , but St. Luke was a Gentile and a painter.  The tradition of St. Luke as a painter is probably as old and sanctified a tradition as that of St. Mary Magdalen and the egg. 

In any case, I read enough of the article to see a glaring non sequitur, and that is all that I dispute.  It does not follow that early Christians rejected portraiture because the Jews did.  And ecclesiastical tradition (for what it is worth, and I assume that among traditionalists it would carry some weight) does not testify to any such conscious rejection of portraiture.
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#5
I should also explain the title of my piece, in which I seem to deny these art historians' whole project when I dispute only one premise. 

1.) I meant for the title to be provocative.

2.) It may be true that St. Paul is painted as a philosopher, but the assumption I dispute should not be adduced as a reason for thinking so. 
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#6
Quote: It is only relevant whether he would have imposed a Jewish-style ban on portraiture upon Gentiles. The burden of proof is on those who claim that early Christians shunned portraiture because of the influence of Jewish culture.

I guess I'm misunderstanding you. I'm not saying that St. Paul imposed any such ban on Gentiles or that the Gentile Christians shunned images. The Roman catacombs contain images of Christ as the Good Shepherd, the Madonna and Child, and the Apostles at the Last Supper. I'm simply pointing out that these images were drawn by Romans, not Jews. And there are no known portraits that Jesus and Mary and the apostles sat and posed for.

You say the absence of such portraits is no proof that Jewish Christians shunned having their portraits painted. I'm saying that the absence of such portraits -- along with the strict Jewish law against graven images -- indicates that they probably did shun having their portraits painted.

- Lisa
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#7
It is not surprising that there are no official portraits drawn by human hands. When living in Judea in a Jewish culture and having no political power, it would be very hard to do. The reasons why are probably simpler. No one thought or cared to do it and there were no ready means to do it.

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#8
Okay, let me be very specific.  The claim made in the article is that, because Jewish culture did not permit portraiture, therefore it is *unthinkable* that St. Paul permitted portrait painting.  Now, it *may be* that the early Christians did not practice the painting of portraits.  It *may be* that this was a temporary extension of Jewish custom.  However, it is not *unthinkable* that they would have behaved otherwise because we know that the early Christians did in fact pick and choose among Jewish customs that could still be observed and those that could not.  So whatever the case about early Christian portraiture, the idea that they would not follow a specific Jewish custom *is not unthinkable.*  It is thinkable that they did not permit portraiture, it is thinkable that they did.  But it would require evidence, whereas this claim, at least as presented in the very short form used here, is a simple inference, the-first-Christians-did-what-Jews-did-duh-the-contrary-is-unthinkable-duh-again.  That inference is not valid, as the Book of Acts is all about the first Christians moving away from strict adherence to Jewish customs.  

"I'm simply pointing out that these images were drawn by Romans, not Jews."

I do not see why it is relevant to my argument.  If Roman Christians painted portraits, then it is possible that they painted portraits of St. Paul, at least from memory.  In which case the traditional portrayal of St. Paul could be based on his appearance in life and not on some conscious decision that St. Paul should look like a philosopher.  The assumption above, the assumption I dispute, does not distinguish between Jewish and Gentile Christians.  It simply assumes that because St. Paul and the other apostles were Jewish, therefore *no* Christian would have painted them in their lifetime or on the basis of their remembered actual appearance.  
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#9
(07-28-2009, 12:34 AM)Bonifacius Wrote: Okay, let me be very specific.  The claim made in the article is that, because Jewish culture did not permit portraiture, therefore it is *unthinkable* that St. Paul permitted portrait painting.  Now, it *may be* that the early Christians did not practice the painting of portraits.  It *may be* that this was a temporary extension of Jewish custom.  However, it is not *unthinkable* that they would have behaved otherwise because we know that the early Christians did in fact pick and choose among Jewish customs that could still be observed and those that could not.  So whatever the case about early Christian portraiture, the idea that they would not follow a specific Jewish custom *is not unthinkable.*  It is thinkable that they did not permit portraiture, it is thinkable that they did.  But it would require evidence, whereas this claim, at least as presented in the very short form used here, is a simple inference, Christians-do-what-Jews-did.  That inference is not valid.  

"I'm simply pointing out that these images were drawn by Romans, not Jews."

I do not see why it is relevant to my argument.  If Roman Christians painted portraits, then it is possible that they painted portraits of St. Paul, at least from memory.  In which case the traditional portrayal of St. Paul could be based on his appearance in life and not on some conscious decision that St. Paul should look like a philosopher.  The assumption above, the assumption I dispute, does not distinguish between Jewish and Gentile Christians.  It simply assumes that because St. Paul and the other apostles were Jewish, therefore *no* Christian would have painted them in their lifetime or on the basis of their remembered actual appearance.  

That is a rather far fetched idea of the article, but if St. Paul did have a person draw/paint him, I would think his house arrest with the Romans would have been the place where it was done so it is logical a Roman would do it.
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#10
(07-28-2009, 12:20 AM)StrictCatholicGirl Wrote: And there are no known portraits that Jesus and Mary and the apostles sat and posed for.

This is not accurate.  Once again, there are numerous legends according to which St. Luke painted Our Lady's portrait or started to (in those legends, angels finished the "acheropita" paintings).  Secondly, there were several images of Our Lord made during His earthly life.  The Veil of Veronica is, in form, a portrait.  There is the Shroud of Turin -- this is fact, not legend or tradition.  The Shroud of Turin at least should make us think twice before claiming that even Jewish Christians observed a total ban on images -- they preserved and venerated a miraculous image of Christ.  They venerated an image of the Incarnate Christ, so the production of new ones is not "unthinkable." And there is evidence not only of miraculous images but of human artwork.  One legend states that Our Lord actually did literally sit for a portrait of Himself that was commissioned by and then sent to King Abgar of Edessa:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abgar_V_of_Edessa .  The king was healed of an illness when he venerated the image.  A woman cured by Christ during His earthly ministry also erected a statue of Him at Caesarea (http://phoenicia.org/statueandicon.html -- you'll have to scroll down a bit).  So there's evidence of painted portraits and even a statue made of Christ during His lifetime or shortly thereafter.  And the miraculous images of the Veil of Veronica and the Shroud of Turin show that, from the very beginning of Christianity, at least *some* images of Christ were both permitted and venerated.

(07-28-2009, 12:20 AM)StrictCatholicGirl Wrote: You say the absence of such portraits is no proof that Jewish Christians shunned having their portraits painted. I'm saying that the absence of such portraits -- along with the strict Jewish law against graven images -- indicates that they probably did shun having their portraits painted.

Again, this may be true, but it does not justify the author's simplistic inference, specifically the "unthinkable" part.  It certainly does not mean that the tradition of painting St. Paul cannot be based on paintings made from life *by non-Jewish Christians.*
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