An unfinished Jesus

On an easel by the window stood a small painting of the Transfiguration with an unfinished Jesus floating in the air above the figures of Saints Peter, James and John. On a table next to the easel was a palette, together with many brushes and knives for impasto all cleaned and arranged in size. (Panos Karnezis, in The Convent)

“… an unfinished Jesus …” I couldn’t let those three words pass without comment.

On one level, it’s the painting that’s incomplete – not the Person being painted. But there’s also a sense in which the Jesus we read about, talk about and paint can never be complete – simply because reading, talking and painting are all representational systems; they can never hope to do more than create codes and symbols.  

René Magritte‘s famous painting, “Ceci n’est pas une pipe”, might help make the reason clear. Magritte made a painting that pictures a pipe. His painting shows a likeness – but the painting is not a pipe.

Portrait painters talk about the importance of creating a likeness – but, no matter how good the painter, and no matter how good the likeness, the person is always other and elsewhere.

For some, the quest for the historical Jesus is crucial; what they need to be able to prove, it seems, is that there is an empirical basis for the stories in the New Testament. For others, the Bible stories themselves are sufficient. In both cases, however, the One being sought is always other and elsewhere.


Karnezis, Panos. 2010. The convent. London: Jonathan Cape. [p68]


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