They also use Rembrandt’s 1648 “Supper at Emmaus” from the Louvre, not seen in the United States since 1936, to show the power of the artist’s humanized, kindly Jesus. Here Jesus faces the viewer, mechanically pulling at a loaf of bread and staring into the distance. Like the panel portraits, the face is dreamy and unthreatening, but it is also strikingly vacant. Rembrandt overcompensates for his “humanized” Christ by placing him in a halo that is so luminescent it isolates Jesus and confines him to another dimension.
The same isolating halo effect appears in the “Hundred Guilder Print,” from about 1649, which depicts Christ preaching to the humble masses. This Jesus is closely related to pop-culture Jesus, the Jesus Is Your Friend Jesus, the Jesus of the film “Jesus of Montreal” rather than the Jesus of Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ.” But rather like the empty chair of the lost “Supper at Emmaus,” this Jesus is so radiant he seems about to disappear into another realm. It is sentimentalized, more like a fairy-tale apparition than the living presence in the painted panels.
Late in life, Rembrandt would paint even more haunting depictions of Jesus, staring out of the picture with much the same sad intensity as Rembrandt’s late self-portraits. But there were some remarkably feminized images of Jesus, as well, which this exhibition doesn’t address. Rembrandt almost seems to be working from a philosophical formula, with uncanny results: What would Jesus look like if Jesus looked like everything I love?
It is a fascinating exhibition, and can be recommended wholeheartedly but for one thing: It costs $25 per adult, making it an expensive family outing even if children’s prices are somewhat lower. The show, which is better than the usual blockbuster, has been priced like a blockbuster, which it isn’t. Some of the most interesting material, including the 1661 “The Risen Christ,” which was included when the show was first seen in Paris, hasn’t made it to Philadelphia. And while the exhibition rewards hours of looking, it is midsize. Like so much of the best of high culture today, the price is too high, yet worth every penny.
and the Face of Jesus
On view at the Philadelphia Museum of Art through Oct. 30. For more information, visit www.philamuseum.org.