Head of Christ

Artist: Petrus Christus (Netherlandish, Baarle-Hertog (Baerle-Duc), active by 1444–died 1475/76 Bruges)

Date: ca. 1445

Medium: Oil on parchment, laid down on wood

Dimensions: Overall 5 7/8 x 4 1/4 in. (14.9 x 10.8 cm); parchment 5 3/4 x 4 1/8 in. (14.6 x 10.5 cm)

Classification: Paintings

Credit Line: Bequest of Lillian S. Timken, 1959

Accession Number: 60.71.1


This intimate image of Christ’s head, intended for private devotion, derives from a lost picture of the Holy Face by Jan van Eyck, now known only through copies. Following the Eyckian composition, Petrus Christus treated the head like a portrait by surrounding it with a fictive frame, thereby underscoring the physical immediacy of Christ. His depiction differs from the prototype, however, in presenting Christ with furrowed brow, the crown of thorns, and drops of blood running down his forehead and onto his chest. These details stimulated a more compassionate reflection on Christ’s suffering by evoking the empathy of the viewer.