Actor Robert Powell played the part of Jesus in the movie Jesus of Nazareth in 1977. For many people, his face and portrayal of Jesus have become the way they imagine Jesus to be… but others strongly disagree.
When Franco Zeffirelli was making his film, “Jesus of Nazareth” in 1975, one of the biggest decisions he faced was who to cast in the role of Jesus himself. The British actor Robert Powell auditioned for another part in the movie, but when Zeffirelli looked at him through the camera lens, he immediately saw in Powell the face of Jesus.
The film Zeffirelli went on to make has been seen by millions of people around the world and is said to have shaped the way they imagine he looked. Is this a good or a bad thing? Reviewers of the movie are divided.
“He was and still is the most magnificent Christ in the history of cinema. Looking at him it seems like seeing Jesus in person,” is one typically positive comment. Steve Humphries-Brooks, a religious studies professor, thinks otherwise. “Zeffirelli’s movie was the most interesting of movie portrayals of Christ, but it was beset by the ‘surfer Jesus’ problem. There in the middle of the Mediterranean is Jesus as a blue-eyed blonde.”
Despite the critics, “Jesus of Nazareth” shows many people a Christ they can recognise and identify with – even if they are mostly western and white-skinned.
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Robert Powell spoke about his role as Jesus in an interview during the production of Jesus of Nazareth in 1975…
“So many people have created Christ in their image for the last 2,000 years that finding the original one is complicated. There are so many barriers in the way, quite apart from the conception of a man who is a God which is very difficult.
“I’m reading the Gospels at the moment and I can find no evidence of the kind of Christ people seem to have invented and created. There is no evidence of Christ, meek and mild. I can find Christ the compassionate, the gentle, but I also find a very temperamental, aggressive, passionate and often angry man a lot of the time.
“We will go for a man with that sort of breadth who is an enormous figure. I do believe Christ lived as a person. I don’t think there is any disputing that.”
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Christians have been making images of Jesus since the early centuries of the church. In this section, we look at pictures of the face of Christ – some of them centuries old, some of them from today.
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