Many Christians grew up with the famous painting of Jesus of Nazareth hanging on the walls of their house or on the mantle of the fire place. Before even seeing the picture, most people know which painting I’m referring to, but most people do not know the story behind it.
It’s easy to think that the iconic painting was created hundreds of years ago and passed down from generation to generation. But in fact, the image has been around for less than 100 years! “Head of Christ” as the painting is named, was created in 1924 by Warner Sallman.
The Chicago, IL native actually crafted over 500 different pieces of artwork, many of which were of Christ, but none were as famous as “Head of Christ”. The image is estimated to have been reproduced over 500 billion times and is one of the most recognized pictures in the entire world.
Sallman was a graduate of the Art Institute of Chicago and a successful commercial artist. While doing this, he was also a volunteer director of art for the Covenant Companion, a youth magazine for the evangelical church.
According to Leroy Carlson, the founder of the Warner Sallman Collection, “Mr. Sallman had to come up with something for that February issue.” And the rest, as they say, is history. Sallman said that as he was having a difficult time with creating an image for the issue, he fell asleep where the face of Christ appeared to him in a dream.
The final finished piece was done in 1940 with Christ seen illuminated in front of a dark brown background. This is the image we all know today. Paul Ericken of Wheaton College says that, although Sallman is not well known in the Christian community, he “has contributed so substantially to the church language, especially in the 20th century.”
Although sometimes criticized by different groups for various reasons, the painting was a meaningful picture that put people face to face with Christ. “Head of Christ” has been recreated for churches, homes, bibles, and even wallet sized pictures for soldiers during World War II. However, the original painting can be seen at the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College.
Watch this video to lean Warner Sallman’s full story and find out the real story behind the iconic face of Jesus!