You’ve seen it before.
Chances are pretty good that it hung on a wall in your home when you were a child, or in the halls of your church.
But have you ever thought about the story behind the famous painting?
There are countless copies of this image of Christ hanging in homes and schools and churches around the world. In fact, over 500 million copies have been made!. This work has drawn the gaze of millions and inspired countless believers.
Keep reading for a closer look at the story behind one of the most famous images of Christ.
From Humble Beginnings
In 1924, an artist named Warner Sallman made a charcoal sketch for a small Christian publication. The charcoal sketch made the cover of the Covenant Companion, a magazine published by the Evangelical Covenant Church.
Sallman believes the image came to him in a vision late one night in early January 1924.
Sallman made many copies and variations in the years that followed, but it was not until 1935 that the first oil painting was created.
In 1940, Sallman was asked to recreate the painting for a theological seminary. It was then that a publisher named Kriebel and Bates discovered the work and offered to publish and market it for Sallman.
Sallman’s Image of Christ Gains Notoriety
Warner Sallman’s “Head of Christ” created in 1940, quickly became popular throughout the United States. It has even been dubbed the “American Jesus” by some.
As its popularity grew, Sallman’s image of Christ became the image most American’s associated with Jesus. As we learned earlier, “Head of Christ” is estimated to have been copied over 500 million times, so it’s no surprise that so many Americans, and people around the globe, associate Sallman’s image so closely with Christ.
The Man Behind “Head of Christ”
Along with his famous portrait of Jesus, Sallman painted many other similar works. As a commercial artist working in Chicago, Warner Sallman created a wide body of Christian artwork.
Born in Chicago in 1897, Warner Sallman was a lifelong member of the Evangelical Covenant Church. He worked as an illustrator for various advertising agencies and religious publishers after studying commercial art at the Art Institute of Chicago.
In addition to “Head of Christ”, Sallman is also known for other famous Christian paintings such as “Christ at Heart’s Door,” “The Lord is My Shepard,” “Christ Our Pilot,” and “Christ in Gethsemane.”
Have You Been Impacted?
Though it has received its share of criticism, “Head of Christ” has impacted many lives.
The fact that Sallman’s portrait of Jesus was marketed so inexpensively and in so many forms, helped lead to its rise in popularity over the years.
The image also helped people visualize what their Savior might have looked like, a helpful connection for many believers.
What about you? Has Sallman’s “Head of Christ” (or other images like it) had an impact on your faith or your understanding of scripture?