The heads of Christ

The answer to the enigma of whether Rembrandt painted his Christ “from life” lies in these pictures. It was to works like these that contemporaries referred when they evoked his portrayals of Jesus “after life.” These heads do indeed have the characteristics of studies made from a model posing in the studio—the study of expressions but also the light—and the drawings seem to have been done from the same model. They also reflect Rembrandt’s insistence on working directly from life, which he considered the touchstone of all art.
Was the model a Jew? This hypothesis stems from the immense interest in biblical history in Holland in 17th century. For Rembrandt, working from a Jewish model would have been a means of returning to a historical truth, of portraying Jesus unadulterated, as the Jew that he was—a form of realism scoffing at tradition.