Del Parson Painting is Accurate Depiction of Jesus Christ

MYTH: The popular red robe portrait of Jesus Christ, painted by Del Parson, portrays an accurate appearance of the Savior.


This myth has been around for more than 22 years. It claims that LDS artist Del Parson was commissioned by the LDS Church to do a painting of the Savior. He allegedly submitted several drafts of the portrait to the General Authorities, but each submission was returned to him with suggestions on how to make it more "accurate." Finally, the now familiar red robed picture of the Savior was accepted as the closest possible approximation to the Savior's actual appearance.

This myth was perpetuated by several, separate myths telling of young girls each recognizing Parson’s depiction of the Savior as the man who saved them. One version of the story tells of a young girl who was protected by the man in the picture from a car accident that killed her parents. Another version is of a girl who was comforted by the man in the picture when she was locked in a closet by her abusive parents. There are several other variations that also exist.
According to Del Parson, the painting was commissioned by the LDS Church, but rather than working with the General Authorities, he worked with the Curriculum Committee to create a painting that would be acceptable to most members of the Church.

Del explains:

In 1983 the Church talked to me about painting a portrait of the Savior. They requested that the painting portray Christ as a strong, masculine figure. They also said I should paint Him with blue eyes and auburn hair. The portrait, which was titled The Lord Jesus Christ, was part of a series of three paintings that the Church requested. The other two that were painted in this series were Jesus Washing the Apostles’ Feet and Jesus at the Door.[1]

The sketch process took five months. During that time Del used three different models, but each sketch was rejected by the Curriculum Committee. Eventually a sketch was approved. The painting that followed took nine days to complete, and after two more changes it was accepted. It has been used by the Church worldwide for roughly 25 years.

Although there were several revisions in the process, there was never any indication that the revisions were to make the portrait "more accurate." With some guidelines and general instructions, Del with given free reign for his creation.

In regards to the stories of the little girl who recognized the Savior from Del’s portrait, Lynette Parson beliefs these stories to be an amalgamation of at least three different stories. She states:

A story was created as the result of a fireside given in Idaho Falls in 1986. Someone who had not attended put about 3 stories together to make a new one, printed it and sent it out with Christmas cards.[2]

Lynette explained that “Del's wife and daughter were killed in a car accident which is part of the story.” Additionally, “Del was told in the Church Office Building… [that]… a young girl reported at Primary that the image in the painting held her and comforted her when her mother was killed.[3]

Over the years, this story has obviously grown and morphed into the multiple variations that currently exist. Interestingly, the story that Del was told in the Church Office Building is eerily similar to an internet glurge commonly referred to as “The Little Girl.” This myth goes as follows:

There was an atheist couple who had a daughter. The couple never told their daughter anything about the Lord.

One night, when the little girl was five years old, the parents fought with each other and the dad shot the mom, right in front of the child. Then, the dad shot himself. The little girl watched it all

She was sent to a foster home. The foster mother was a Christian and took the child to church. On the first day of Sunday School, the foster mother told the teacher that the girl had never heard of Jesus, and to have patience with her. The teacher held up a picture of Jesus and said, “Does anyone know who this is?”

The little girl said, “I do. That’s the man who was holding me the night my parents died." [4]

This glurge became the inspiration for John Michael Montgomery’s 2000 hit song “The Little Girl,” written by Harley Allen. According to USA Today:

Allen says he and his brother have tried to track the tale’s source, without any luck. It’s posted on dozens of Web sites – usually with the title such as Held by Jesus or And the Little Child Shall Lead Them – with no attribution. “We don’t have a clue” about its origin, Allen says, “but if it ain’t true, it ought to be.” [5]

Could the story Del was told about “the little girl” at the Church Office building have been a real experience and the ultimate origin of “the little girl” glurge, or was it a rehashing, in LDS terms, of this same old myth? We simply don’t know.

Without a doubt, Del was inspired in his work and for millions worldwide his portrait of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is recognized and cherished. But the fact remains, it was not modeled after, nor intended to be an actual depiction of, the Savior.

[1] “Del’s story of the red robed Christ” a statement in his own words of his experience painting the red robed Christ portrait, sent to me from Lynette Parson, February 10, 2009
[2] Lynette Parson, personal correspondence, February 10, 2009
[3] Ibid.
[5] Mansfield, Brian. “Country’s ‘Little Girl’ Sending Fans to Hankie Heaven.” USA Today. September 7, 2000, p.D1

No comments:

Post a Comment