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Patristic vision of Jesus’ human face inspires local Catholic painter

03 PAGE 7.13.17_Lisa Andrews with painting of ChristChurch of the Nativity parishioner Lisa Andrews in front of “The Word Made Flesh,” her painting of Jesus commissioned by the Cathedral of the Holy Name in Steubenville, Ohio. (Courtesy photo)

July 13, 2017
Christina Gray

Church of the Nativity, Menlo Park, parishioner Lisa Andrews had done a number of devotional paintings in her career as a fine artist, but never a portrait of Jesus before she was commissioned by the Cathedral of the Holy Name in Steubenville, Ohio, to do just that.

“I was quite concerned that I do him justice,” said Andrews of the 24-by-20-inch work named “The Word Made Flesh,” shipped to the Diocese of Steubenville on June 25.

Everyone has an idea about what Jesus should look like, she said, often colored by images they have seen in the past.

“It’s a real challenge not to fall into the trap of ‘copying’ something already done,” said Andrews.

Her paintings at Franciscan University of Steubenville and churches in the area caught the notice of the local diocese, which commissioned the painting for the cathedral, now under renovation.

Andrews said she wanted to offer “as truthful a representation as I could make of his human person” while staying faithful to the intent of the early Christian fathers who developed a theology around the sacred image of the Lord.

She read Austrian Cardinal Christoph Schonborn’s book “God’s Human Face” (Ignatius Press 1994), in which he describes the visage of Christ that emerged by artists during the fourth century.

“The conviction spread that these were Christ’s outward looks: long, parted hair; a full beard; delicate, elongated facial features; large serious eyes gazing at the onlooker,” he writes on Page 96.

The Shroud of Turin was Andrews’ “model” in creating “The Word Made Flesh,” “an intensely personal journey” in which she felt her subject was “guiding me throughout the process.”

Despite her attention to these human details, Andrews’ painting bears a profoundly spiritual message about the risen Christ.

Jesus’ hands, seen in the traditional pose of blessing, bear the marks of the Passion. A “halo” of Aramaic text, seen behind him on an ancient scroll, is illuminated in 24-karat gold leaf, revealing the reason for the painting’s name.

“Just as he brought light into the world, Jesus illuminated the sacred texts,” she said. “God became manifest in a physical way, which illuminated the Scripture outward.”

Framed in a custom “tabernacle” frame designed by Andrews, the painting was displayed at her parish for a week before it left for its final destination, where it will hang in the renovated cathedral. In the meantime, local parishes will take turns hosting the painting in their own churches.

“I wanted to provide the average viewer of this era a means of relating to Christ in a visual vernacular that is familiar and accessible,” said Andrews.

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