Picture Perfect Jesus

DVD Release: June 30, 2009
Picture Perfect Jesus


Almost everyone knows the image, but few know “the rest of the story.” Warner Sallman’s portrait of Jesus Christ is one of the most recognized paintings of the 20th century, indeed one of the most recognized images ever. “Picture Perfect Jesus” is a biography of this image. It answers two important questions: why was this image once so universally accepted, and why is it no longer so?

Dove Review

“Picture Perfect Jesus” tells the amazing story behind the infamous “Head of Christ,” painted by artist Warner Sallman. The painting has drawn criticism and praise, and some people have even reported seeing tears flowing from the portrait, resulting in the healing of people. The painting has been called “down to earth,” and a woman, at the start of the feature, says of the painted Jesus, “You would love to meet this person — I would.”

Sallman drew a charcoal image of Christ in Chicago in 1933, which became the famous head painting. His biographer, Jack Lundbom, says Sallman worked for both the Salvation Army and the American Bible Society, doing master art for both organizations. He struggled as a commercial artist but his life soon changed, and he was reminded that all things are possible.

This documentary shares his story of the inspiration that moved Sallman to create the drawing, after a vision of sorts at 1 a.m. in the morning. Warner Sallman’s son, James, tells the story. Sallman’s “Son of Man” drawing eventually became known as the “Head of Christ,” and he painted the image that sold 100,000 copies in two months. At the end of 1941, one million copies were distributed, and by the end of 1942, three million more. As his biographer Lundbom said, “People wanted the picture!” It even filled the wallets of soldiers during World War ll.

The painting drew criticism for depicting a “white” Jesus, even though some could make the argument that the skin of the man is of an olive complexion. Some people even created a “black” Jesus painting in response. Despite the criticism, some people claimed the portrait caused miracles to happen. A cardboard copy of it hung in the home of an 11-year-old boy named Isaac, who was dying from cancer. He claimed the portrait began weeping, and 11 days later, when Isaac had undergone a new biopsy, he was declared cancer-free and cured.

The painting certainly has withstood the test of time and has offered inspiration to untold numbers of people. The story behind its creation is fascinating. We are pleased to award it our Faith Friendly 12+ Seal.

Content Description

Sex: None
Language: None
Violence: Archive footage of war, including explosions, tanks, and shooting, body seen on the ground; images of Christ being crucified on the cross and one image of his pierced side.
Drugs: "Prozac" is mentioned with regards to a painting.
Nudity: Shirtless men; images of Christ in loin cloth.
Other: Comments about a black Jesus and a white Jesus not being accepted; comments about a white Jesus; racism discussion; a woman says, "Jesus became a wimp," with regards to some people believing the portrait portrays Jesus in a soft manner.


Company: Gateway Films / Vision Video
Director: Lyle Jackson
Producer: Lyle Jackson
Genre: Documentary
Runtime: 47 min.
Industry Rating: Not Rated
Starring: Hal Holbrook
Reviewer: Edwin L. Carpenter