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Whether modern depictions of the appearance of Jesus are historically accurate has long been a subject of debate, and one rumor related to that debate holds that the modern image of Jesus is largely based on the appearance of Cesare Borgia, a 15th century Italian nobleman.

Dumas was, while celebrated, a writer of fiction and not an historian. Such images imply that the relatively standardized, modern depiction of Jesus emerged in approximately , but art historians might argue otherwise. Although the Renaissance produced a vast quantity of the most prominent depictions of Jesus, plenty of artworks antedating bear the same visual qualities that were purportedly based on those of Borgia:.

Is the Modern Face of Jesus Modeled on a ‘Gangster’s Son’?

From the time of Pope Gregory the Great, images were valued both as lessons for the unlettered and as aids to worship. Images were meant to enhance the experience of the faithful both in communal and in individual worship, and devotional treatises gave instructions for how to use pictures to enter more fully into sacred history. A long haired, pale-skinned Jesus was observed in artworks from and centuries prior. Many image macros assert that Cesare Borgia was the son of a corrupt gangster, a criminal, a dictator, and a sexual deviant.

Cesare Borgia of course lived centuries before the advent of cameras, so the most common image we have of Borgia now is a portrait of disputed provenance:. The scant record includes another portrait which bears no noteworthy resemblance to either contemporaneous 15th century or modern depictions of Jesus:.

Trumping history with the Borgias

In forensic anthropologist Richard Neave created a model of a Galilean man for a BBC documentary, Son of God, working on the basis of an actual skull found in the region. A Republican political operative established mockingly fake websites for several Democratic presidential contenders. Harris claimed she was part of only the second class to integrate the Berkeley public schools.

And she was right. In the aftermath of the first round of Democratic primary debates, social media users shared a largely misleading, inaccurate meme that targeted the former vice president. Right from the start, the Borgia papacy specialised in family self-aggrandisement. He staged a huge showy inauguration playing to the Roman crowds.


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Top positions went to family and friends. He built his own apartments in the Vatican, having them extravagantly decorated by the most fashionable painter of the day and when his daughter got married, he threw a lavish wedding inside those same rooms. His eldest son Cesare was his closest advisor, finally moving into the Vatican and using papal funds to run a military campaign to annex the Papal States into the Borgia dynasty.

The Borgia Chronicles: by Mary Hollingsworth

When one of the Roman families moved against him during a French invasion, he had the head of the family poisoned in prison and some years later annihilated half the rest. He lied and dissembled without compunction. Rodrigo died in , felled by a mosquito bite during a viciously hot Roman summer: the gossip was that his bedchamber was full of cavorting bare-chested devils speaking if not in Russian, then a strange tongue, come to claim him after the deal made with him to let him rule.

His body was so bloated that it started to decay almost immediately and had to be buried hurriedly, men pushing and shoving into a coffin, which was already too small for it.

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His papacy was to have a powerful impact on the history of Europe. His political and diplomatic dealings were followed with acute interest by a young Florentine envoy who spent months at the court of Cesare Borgia.

Top 10 Alleged Dark Facts About the Mysterious Borgia Family

A few years later, Martin Luther, who had visited Rome as a young monk during the Jubilee and been appalled at what he saw, nailed his 17 treatises to the church door at Wittenberg. The protestant reformation, spreading war and bloodshed across Europe, had begun. History, then as now, has consequences.

Is the Modern Face of Jesus Modeled on a ‘Gangster’s Son’?

The Florentine is a media partner of the event. For more information, see www. Out on March 2, London: Virago. Preorder your US edition here.