Scala/Art Resource, NY

Not just another pretty face. Two adjacent fourth-century apse mosaics in the Church of Santa Costanza in Rome show the contrast between the young and old Jesus even more strikingly. In one apse (shown here), Jesus appears unbearded as he stands and gives the scroll of the Law to Paul; in the next (compare with photo of apse mosaic depicting old Jesus), he appears as a bearded, enthroned authority figure giving the keys of the church to Peter.

Because the Gospels give no clue to Jesus’ appearance, the early church fathers turned to the Old Testament for guidance. There they found contrasting descriptions of how the messiah should appear. Isaiah 53 describes that the messiah “has no form nor glory, nor beauty when we beheld him, but his appearance was without honor and inferior to that of the sons of man.” Psalm 45, on the other hand, implies that God is the “most handsome of men.” These two conflicting reports may also have inspired the two distinct styles used to depict Jesus.