Monday, January 19, 2009

Paintings of Jesus by Warner Sallman

Some of the most famous American paintings of Jesus were done by artist Warner Sallman (1892-1968). If you grew up in a Christian environment (Protestant or Catholic), you've seen these pictures in your church and maybe had them in your home. Christianity Today did a write up on Sallman a while back. His two best known paintings are: "The Head of Christ", and "Christ at Heart's Door".

Some say that these the pictures have outlived their usefulness - that they are a bit of a "Velvit Elvis" (something unique to the older generation, that younger people don't find helpful). They have also been criticized for making Jesus look too soft and too European. I appreciate the criticisms, but like the pictures anyway. My favorite is "Christ at Heart's Door". It is based on a passage from Revelation 3:20: Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.

When I was growing up, Dad had "Christ at Heart's Door" hung in his study. I remember asking Dad why Jesus was knocking on the door. He explained that the door represented my heart. If I asked Jesus to come in, he would. These sorts of conversations with Dad bring back fond memories.

It's interesting to note some of the Arminian aspects of the painting, First, Christ is knocking on the door, not kicking it in. Second, there is no handle to the door, the person inside needs to open it.

Lastly, it's interesting how these pictures have represented a sort of "icon" for American Protestants. While icons are common to some other Christian traditions, American Protestants have generally avoided them.


Tony-Allen said...

Your comment that the picture is of Christ knocking, not kicking in, made me laugh. Gave me an image of Christ in full SWAT gear kicking in a door with a team of angels also in SWAT gear behind Him. :)

I also like your point about icons. I've noticed that some Protestants take the Orthodox approach to art without knowing it (adorning paintings in their homes, using it to tell stories and worship, etc) while others take a very Nestorian approach (no pictures at all, and crosses are left out because *gasp* a cross might be idolatry!).

Pizza Man said...

Thanks for the comments Tony!

Jnorm888 said...

Thanks for making this post!


Dawn said...

I have both of these paintings. I also like Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane.

Pizza Man said...

Jnorm, glad you enjoyed it!

Dawn, I like that one too.

Sue said...

A long time ago, an elderly friend told me some of the meaning behind the picture of Christ knocking at Heart's Door. He said that the arbor and door give shape to a heart. There is darkness in the heart until it is opened to let Christ in. There is no handle on the outside because we must voluntarily open our heart. I wish I could remember everything he told me about it!