The Myths and History of Red Hair

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Was Jesus A Ginger?

Normally we're used to seeing Judas portrayed in paintings with red hair, however in many cases Jesus likewise is depicted as a redhead. In fact, research into the Rabbula Gospels (the earliest dated Christian manuscript) has revealed that some of the images in the document have been repainted, and that the hair of Jesus Christ had been changed from curly red to straight black.

The Letter of Lentulus, an epistle supposedly sent by Publius Lentulus to the Roman Senate, but thought by scholars to be a forgery, also describes a red-haired Jesus. Stating that his hair was the "colour of the ripe hazel-nut". Some Islamic accounts describe Jesus with a reddish complexion as well. One stating that he was "a reddish man with many freckles on his face as if he had just come from a bath". I'll share some of the paintings I've come across which depict a red-haired Jesus below.

Pieta by Il Bronzino

The painting above is by the Italian artist Agnolo di Cosimo (1503 - 1572), more commonly known as Il Bronzino. It's titled Pieta and shows Jesus with striking red hair and a gingerish complexion. Mary Magdalene is likewise depicted with bright red hair.

Pieta (detail) by Il Bronzino
Pieta (detail) by Il Bronzino

The picture below is titled Ecce Homo and is by the Flemish artist Abraham Janssens (1567 - 1632). In it Jesus is portrayed with both reddish hair and beard.

Ecce Homo by Abraham Janssens

Next up is a painting titled the Altarpiece of the Lamentation and is by the painter Joos van Cleve (1485 - 1540/1541). Once again Jesus is portrayed with reddish hair and beard. The women accompanying him are likewise red haired.

The Altarpiece of the Lamentation (detail) by Joos van Cleve

The following picture shows the Madonna with the child Jesus and is said to be by Leonardo da Vinci (1452 - 1519), although there is some contention over this. Both mother and child are shown with royal red hair. It's titled Madonna Litta.

Madonna Litta - Leonardo da Vinci

Michelangelo also painted Christ with reddish hair. The following image is from The Last Judgement and can be found on the altar wall of the Sistine Chapel.

Jesus and Mary - Michelangelo

This next one depicts the "Kiss of Judas" and is from the Siena Cathedral crypt. Both Jesus and Judas are shown with red hair, as are the people depicted in the background.

Kiss of Judas - Siena Cathedral Crypt

The following painting is by the artist Gentile da Fabriano (1370 - 1427) and shows Jesus, the Virgin Mary and John the Evangelist. All three with hair of a strawberry-blond colouring.

Jesus, Mary and John - Gentile da Fabriano

This next one is a very cool image and one I've only recently came across. It depicts Jesus with stark white skin, draped in red, and against a jet black background. A glimmer of shiny red hair (at least I think it's hair) can be seen above the forehead. The overall image is quite striking. It's titled Ecce Homo and is by the artist Jose de Ribera (1591 - 1652).

Ecce Homo by Jose de Ribera
Ecce Homo (detail) by Jose de Ribera
Ecce Homo (detail) by Jose de Ribera

This next image is said to have been painted by a follower of Jose de Ribera and shows a young Christ in discussion with scholars at the Temple. Once again Christ is given reddish hair. It's titled Jesus and the doctors of Faith.

Jesus and the doctors of the Faith
Jesus and the doctors of the Faith (detail)

And last up quite a well known red-haired depiction of Christ; Christ in the House of His Parents by the Pre-Raphaelite artist John Everett Millais (1829 - 1896). Charles Dickens famously described the boy in the painting as a "wry-necked, blubbering, redheaded boy, in a bed-gown."

Christ in the House of His Parents by Millais
Christ in the House of His Parents (detail) by Millais

Of course, we should finally state that Jesus is a symbolic representation of the highest spirit that can be attained by man, and as such transcends all superficial notions of race, colour and ethnicity :p ..in this modern age he should also be genderless too - an androgynous rainbow-coloured uber-Christ of sorts.

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