I recently saw this image on Facebook (source):

claim that depiction of Jesus is actually of Caesar Borgia

Along with a caption:

Pope Alexander lV then ordered the destruction of all art depicting a Semitic Jesus and commissioned a number of paintings depicting a Caucasian Jesus. His son, Cardinal Cesare Borgia, was the model for these paintings. Thus, the nastiest of all the Borgias, became the iconic Caucasian Jesus so loved by Christians today.

Since then, following links has led to three sources that seem to be rather independent of each other: 1, 2, and 3. In particular, the first one has this statement:

Many scholars believe that Cesare Borgia was the basis for some depictions of Jesus that eventually became the standard look that is used until today.

But no source for that claim. The third source has more information that certainly seem to be accurate, and the second has this comparison image:

side by side comparison of Caesar Borgia and Jesus Christ

Hence, I'm willing to believe that the popular modern depiction of Jesus in Western cultures is based off of Cesare Borgia, but I'd like to see more evidence.

Is it true that Cesare Borgia was the model for today's depictions of Jesus?

  • 4
    I'm confused: I thought the popular Western depiction of Jesus was blond hair and blue eyes (and a blue robe). i.e. exactly your image on the right. Now either my eyes are wonky, or I'm not understanding your question, but I can't see anything in common with the left-hand or top images.
    – Benjol
    Feb 28, 2014 at 9:22
  • 3
    @Benjol: Perhaps that was due to changes over time in artistic "culture", so to speak. As in, "good people are blond-haired and blue-eyed". However, the long hair, beard, mustache, and facial structure do seem to be quite similar. Feb 28, 2014 at 14:42
  • I also am not convinced by the picture comparison, but the blue eyed, blonde haired Jesus depiction certainly came from somewhere.
    – user11643
    Feb 28, 2014 at 15:59

1 Answer 1


Let's start with some sanity checks. The image of Cesare Borgia presented here doesn't look much like either of the images of Jesus presented, nor like any of the other images of Jesus. The face is flatter, the nose is flatter, the eyes are smaller and a different colour, the lips are thinner, the hair is a different colour, and while there are similarities in the hairstyle there are differences too. The only other image of Cesare Borgia I've found looks slightly more Jesus-like, but not by much. The only thing that makes for any similarity is the beard and (to some extent) hair, and there were almost certainly plenty of people with that beard and hairstyle.

But let's look at some other Jesus pictures. The one at the top right looks very like the Jesus in the question. Could it be Cesare Borgia? No, because it's from the 6th century. Similarly this and this are similar to renaissance Jesus, and predate Cesare Borgia.

This is not a definitive answer, but does provide some reasons to doubt the claim.

  • 1
    Some of those differences might be artifacts of artistic license, lack of versatility, and inattention to detail, whether on the part of the artist or the customer. Being the object of religious adoration can do wonders for your complexion, at least after passing through rose-colored glasses. Mar 6, 2014 at 11:13

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