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During the persecution of Christians under the Roman Empire, Christian art was necessarily furtive and ambiguous, and there was hostility to idols in a group still with a large component of members with Jewish origins, surrounded by, and polemicising against, sophisticated pagan images of gods. He is depicted dressed in the style of a young philosopher, with close-cropped hair and wearing a tunic and pallium – signs of good breeding in Greco-Roman society.
From this, it is evident that some early Christians paid no heed to the historical context of Jesus being a Jew and visualised him solely in terms of their own social context, as a quasi-heroic figure, without supernatural attributes such as a halo (a fourth-century innovation).
"he had no form nor comeliness, that we should look upon him, nor beauty that we should delight in him." But when the pagan Celsus ridiculed the Christian religion for having an ugly God in about 180, Origen (d.
248) cited Psalm 45:3: "Gird thy sword upon thy thigh, mighty one, with thy beauty and fairness" Later the emphasis of leading Christian thinkers changed; Jerome (d. 430) argued that Jesus must have been ideally beautiful in face and body.
His feet were like burnt bronze glowing in a furnace (…) His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance." (Revelation –16, NIV). Later personified symbols were used, including Jonah, whose three days in the belly of the whale pre-figured the interval between Christ's death and resurrection; Daniel in the lion's den; or Orpheus charming the animals.
The depiction with a longish face, long straight brown hair parted in the middle, and almond shaped eyes shows consistency from the 6th century to the present.
The depiction of him in art took several centuries to reach a conventional standardized form for his physical appearance, which has subsequently remained largely stable since that time.
Most images of Jesus have in common a number of traits which are now almost universally associated with Jesus, although variants are seen.
The Good Shepherd, now clearly identified as Christ, with halo and often rich robes, is still depicted, as on the apse mosaic in the church of Santi Cosma e Damiano in Rome, where the twelve apostles are depicted as twelve sheep below the imperial Jesus, or in the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia at Ravenna.
Once the bearded, long-haired Jesus became the conventional representation of Jesus, his facial features slowly began to be standardised, although this process took until at least the 6th century in the Eastern Church, and much longer in the West, where clean-shaven Jesuses are common until the 12th century, despite the influence of Byzantine art.