Jesus and Christian Tropes


This original encaustic painting, titled “Christ Pantocrator”, was first completed in the 6th-century, will be the basis of the following interpretations. The painting depicts Jesus as the Christ in a classical Byzantine style, which often aims to capture the duality of Jesus as a figure of both divine and human nature. Many metonymic tropes (particularly religious ones) share their origins in early depictions of Jesus, such as a halo or thorns on the head, a bearded (often white) man in robes, a mother and her child (Mary and baby Jesus), certain gestures that reflect Christian ideals (reaching out the hand to help people in need), religious books/texts (the Bible), and so on.


Trope 1 – White Jesus

“Head of Christ”, painted by American artist Warner Sallman in 1940, depicts Jesus of Nazareth as a long-haired, bearded, white man, which largely influenced the popular depiction of Jesus in this form in later years. The origins of this trope are rooted even earlier in history, though, as European art, such as Leonardo da Vinci’s “Last Supper” and Michelangelo’s “Last Judgment”, depict Jesus with white skin, long hair, and robes. In the case of Sallman’s painting, it effectively embodies the aesthetic trope of Jesus popular (primarily in Western culture) today.


Trope 2 – Jesus in Popular Culture

“Jumpshot Jesus”, an illustration by American graphic designer, Justin Kucsek, carries many of the visual tropes associated with Jesus of Nazareth into the mainstream, popular culture, particularly within the realm of basketball. Popular NBA players, such as Ray Allen and J.R. Smith, further popularised this particular illustration by wearing it on the sideline of games. “Jumpshot Jesus” embodies the Western Jesus aesthetic trope in key ways, such as his white skin, beard, long, brown hair, robes, halo, and sandals. Given even just a few of these key aesthetic pieces, any image could embody this trope, as seen below…


Trope 3/4 – Eastern Depictions of Jesus

“Mother of God”, a painting from Japan by an unknown artist, dated 1905, depicts the Virgin Mary and her baby son, Jesus. Though the content depicted in this vintage reproduction is that of the common “madonna and child” style in Japan, this image is confirmed to specifically depict Chrisitan themes, such as the mother Mary and baby Jesus. This is made particularly clear by the common visual tropes of halos, as well as the mother and baby—with the mother in a caring, compassionate posture. As previously mentioned, only a few of the common tropes related to Jesus are needed to communicate Christian themes, such as the halos and mother/child combination.

This painting, done on a scroll, is from a collection exhibited in December 2011, called “Christian Folk Art from India”, which displayed numerous Eastern works that depicted Jesus and Christian narratives in various ways. These scrolls were used by Chitrakars, traveling storytellers from the Bengal province of India, and share common tropes associated with the aesthetic of Jesus of Nazareth, such as a cross, Jesus hanging on a cross, a halo/shining light around the head, robes, doves, and other, subtle visual keys. This is an example of just how far these tropes can be stretched across cultures while maintaining the essence of Jesus’ story. 


Works Cited

“Icon of Christ Pantocrator.” The Byzantine Legacy,

Sallman, Warner. “Head of Christ.”, 23 Sept. 2016,

Kuczek, Jason. “Jumpshot Jesus – Jason Kuczek Profile.” Jason Kuczek – Creator of “Jumpshot Jesus”, 2012,

Unknown. “Christian Japanese Madonna – Mary and Baby Jesus.” Japanese Madonna and Child, 1905,

Hmsarthistorian. Christian Folk Art from India, 1 Jan. 1970,

Discussion — 3 Responses

  • Madeline Shearer 03/07/2021 on 10:15 PM

    Growing up in the Catholic Church and overall just practicing the Christian faith for most of my life, seeing images and tropes of Jesus have been very common in my life. In western culture, it’s not a shock that the images of Jesus and how he is depicted isn’t very diverse (or accurate as a matter of fact). As mentioned it’s the very universal, long hair, beard, white skin, that typically is shown throughout the media. All across the Western Hemisphere Jesus is typically portrayed as White/European descent, despite all the evidence and historical knowledge of him living in the Middle East and being Middle Eastern. Even with the cultural variations of Jesus, and the pop culture, the Middle Eastern “variation” tends to not come up a lot in the media. I think the idea (or fact) that Jesus was not in fact white, and is from a darker and more ethnic skin tone is slowly starting to be excepted by the population; hopefully one day we will no longer “whitewash” the Bible and keep it as accurate as we can for future generations. One thing that did surprise me was how other cultures portray Jesus, or the Jesus “look”. Maybe with my background I’m personally just used to seeing the western version, but I find the cultural variations very appealing and interesting to look at, and overall very beautiful. I never knew that art was something that existed. Another thing I really loved about the Eastern take was how they still contained the main components of the original trope, either the nailing to the cross or the appearance of a halo like structure. With this post it was very eye opening to see how one person, or the idea of one person, can be portrayed and created in so many different and beautiful ways.

    • Josh Madeline Shearer 03/07/2021 on 10:28 PM

      Thanks, Madeline!

      I agree with your thoughts about the westernized depiction of Jesus; I’m glad you got some insight from what I researched. Taking a more global look at anything, particularly a major historical figure (such as Jesus), can definitely evoke a healthy open-mindedness (or open-heartedness). Eastern depictions of Jesus, for example, once cross-referenced, can better paint a picture of how the world has been impacted by his life; as you said, various elements remain, such as a cross or mother/child figure. I encourage you to look at other depictions of him, as there are many other examples I had to decide between to show—it helped me, personally, realize the depth of his impact more. He truly does have a way of reconciling the world to himself.

  • Jack Craig 03/12/2021 on 5:06 PM

    Being someone who’s never really identified with organized religion: especially Christianity, I’ve always had a problem with the depictions of Jesus being a white man since he being from the Middle East would arguably look completely nonwhite. I never considered the surrounding tropes as pointed out by you: the halo, madonna and the child as also evoking Jesus sans the need to depict him as a white man. The last two art pieces in particular was refreshing to see as I had never seen a non white depiction of Jesus, and yet when I saw the two initially I could tell they were depicting Jesus purely by the common associated visual motifs as pointed out: the halo, the thorn crown and even the crucifixion. This begs the question how are other biblical figures who are also traditionally depicted as white depicted in eastern cultures? Would there be a way to depict purely through associated visual motifs or is this an exclusive feature to the figure of Jesus?

Sorry, but commenting has been disabled.