What is perhaps the most widely known and loved pictorial presentation of Christ, at least among Protestants, is what has become popularly known in the last 25 years as Sallman’s Head of Christ.

Adverse criticism has stalked the rise of Sallman’s work continually. Some art experts have found fault with the painting even as it was becoming world-famous. First its originality was challenged, then its stature as true art.

Now there are more misgivings. Even if the work is original, even if it has inspirational qualities founded in evangelical piety, a further question is posed: Does the work represent authentic Christian art?

Warner E. Sallman, now 65, is a humble commercial artist, of Mission Covenant church background. His Christian devotion is forthright:

“I believe everyone who has committed himself to Christ our Lord desires to serve him with whatever gifts or talents he may possess. On this premise, with Jesus Christ as my guide, it has been my goal to yield whatever abilities God has given me to his honor and glory. It seemed that my talent for painting and illustrating developed in me from early youth, and by divine direction I was led step by step toward a ministry of Christian art. I give God the glory for whatever has been accomplished by my efforts to bring joy and happiness to people throughout the world.”

Sallman did not always want to be an artist. During childhood he had entertained aspirations of being a physician, then a minister. But his bent for art prevailed. Aided by the encouragement and instruction of Christian parents, young Warner Sallman produced his first oil at the age of 10. The young artist’s professional training included night classes at the Chicago Art Institute.

It ...

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