Today I went to see the exhibition of Rembrandt and the Face of Jesus" at the Philadelphia Art Museum. Breaking with centuries of tradition, Rembrandt began to paint Christ on the basis of studies of living Jewish models, who it is believed may have lived in Rembrandt's own neighborhood, to which many Ashkenazi Jews came in 1648 from Eastern Europe. The Netherlands had opened its doors to Jews. Nora Hamerman has written a fascinating review of the exhibition.
Head of Christ by Rembrandt van Rijn, 1648-50
This painting of the Head of Christ is relatively small and far more moving than any print or Internet version of it, because of Rembrandt's detailed brushwork, particularly around the eyes, which gets washed out in the prints. Through this detail, which distinguishes Rembrandt's Heads of Christ from those of his studio pupiles, the great Dutch painter portrays a Christ with the emotions of one who took upon himself the sins of the world.
Rembrandt placed a high importance on his studies of Christ's face, keeping two of his oil studies in his bedroom.
The exhibition ends in Philadelphia on October 30. But there is good news if you are in the Midwest. The exhibition, which collects Rembrandt's paintings, drawings, and prints from many museums, will be at the Detroit Institute of Arts from Sunday November 20, 2011, to Sunday February 12, 2012.