Each culture and each art is different. Something that distinguished Byzantine temples, was their ability to generate a sense of the divine using light radiating from the colors of precious metals (mostly gold) used for paintings, murals, etc. What is striking about these Byzantine paintings is that they always portrayed Jesus with what seems like makeup, mainly eyeliner.
Characteristics of Byzantine art
Byzantine art developed throughout the Middle Ages in Europe. This art has a strong Arabic influence and retained the idea of holding God as the center of life and the universe. For this reason, almost all art in this style has a sacred character; that is, Byzantine art is worthy of worship for its religious themes related to divinity. Paintings also had an educational purpose, to teach the scriptures for those who could neither read nor write.
One of the most representative icons of this movement is the Pantocrator, the representation of the Savior seated, blessing, and framed in a closed curve in the shape of an almond. These icons were images of Christ intended to decorate the sacred spaces of Byzantium, the ancient capital of the Eastern Roman Empire. They were usually paintings of monumental dimensions, built with mosaics bathed in gold or lapis lazuli (a gem of a characteristic ultramarine blue color).
These murals of Jesus are easily identified by a distinctive halo around his head, indicating the holiness of Christ. He usually has the fingers of his right hand positioned as if he was blessing the observer, and in his left hand, he holds the sacred scriptures of the Christian tradition.
The unique Byzantine style flourished within the Western world and the borders of the Arab civilization. This gave this art a peculiar way of representing and worshipping religious figures stand out and made a new way of expressing Jesus and Mary, these two biblical characters that motivated Byzantine art.
Why does Jesus appear in Byzantine art with makeup?
Both the figure of Mary and Jesus represented the power of the emperors and the ancient rulers. This was a way of demonstrating the economic and political power they could exercise through faith. For this reason, their facial features were emphasized to give a touch of imposition.
One of the most marked silhouettes, without a doubt, was Jesus’ eyes. Because of this situation, it could seem that he is wearing makeup. But in fact, it was used to demonstrate through his face, a message of strength, rigor, and imperial presence. It should be noted that in the times when Christianity was beginning to expand throughout Europe, there was no better way than the image of Jesus Christ to show that power.
Translated by María Isabel Carrasco Cara Chards