From the lofty ceiling of the Sistine Chapel to a cheap portrait hanging above the mantelpiece in your grandma’s house, artists have long sought to recreate an accurate portrayal of Jesus Christ with the stroke of a paintbrush.
Jesus is perhaps the most popular artistic subject of all time, and there are countless interpretations of what he really looked like throughout art history.
Who knew the likes of Michelangelo, da Vinci, and Caravaggio simply needed to wait for the advent of artificial intelligence to show the true face of Jesus?
In a first, AI image-generating technology has used the Shroud of Turin as a template to show what many claim is the "real" face of Jesus in HD clarity.
Do we actually, finally, know what Jesus Christ looked like?
What is the Shroud of Turin?
To understand how it reveals an alleged crystal clear image of Jesus, we must first understand what, exactly this ancient relic is.
The Shroud of Turin is a burial relic believed by many Christians to show the holy visage of Jesus, after being used to cover his face after death.
Made from a simple 14-foot linen cloth, with the faint image of a man’s front and back imprinted in the shroud in a reddish-yellow stain… likely blood, according to some experts.
The shroud first shows up in documented history in 1354, when it appeared in a church in northern France. It was initially believed to have been given to a church in Lirey by the famed French knight Geoffroi de Charny, who claimed it was the real burial shroud of Jesus Christ.
Interestingly, there is little evidence to suggest how de Charny acquired the shroud in the first place.
Nevertheless, the legend of the Shroud of Turin grew, and it's since become one of the most famous – and controversial – Christian relics in existence. The debate centers around one crucial question: is it real?
Real or Fake?
Even in the 14th century, many considered the shroud a hoax. In 1390, the bishop of Troyes told Pope Clement VII that he believed the shroud was a forgery, possibly as a means to raise money and followers for the Lirey church.
Pope Clement VII agreed, but contended that the church could still display the shroud so long as they describe it as an "icon", and not a "relic".
Despite the pope’s assertion that the shroud was inauthentic, scores of Christians throughout history believed – and still believe – that the shroud is indeed the actual visage of Jesus.
Further complicating matters are the scores of scientific analyses done on this piece of cloth. Radiocarbon dating showed the shroud was made sometime during the Middle Ages – but this is a matter of serious dispute, and some scholars insist the radiocarbon dating was conducted on a piece of cloth used in the 14th century to repair the shroud.
Although many Christian denominations recognize the significance of the shroud, it has been particularly venerated in the Catholic Church.
The Catholic Church does not explicitly endorse or reject the shroud’s authenticity, leaving it up to individual members to interpret for themselves.
The Face of Jesus
If the shroud truly is what it's purported to be, we may now have the clearest image of what Jesus Christ looked like thanks to AI technology.
The shockingly lifelike image produced by an image-generation platform shows a thin man with long hair, soft eyes, high cheekbones, and a goatee – a rendering not so far off from countless other artistic depictions of Jesus in centuries past.
One question skeptics pose: was the artificial intelligence used to create this lifelike image of Jesus biased by thousands of previous portrayals of Jesus? Or was our collective imagining of Jesus perhaps informed by the shroud itself?
What do you think? True face of Jesus, or clever forgery?