Weird History

Our Modern Image Of Jesus Might Be Based On A 15th-Century Murderer

The Cesare Borgia Jesus portrait theory has been circulating online for awhile now. The popular image alleges that the modern face of Jesus is actually based on the image of a brutal 15th century conquerer whose ruthless tactics differ greatly from the peaceful depictions of Jesus in the Bible. Is Jesus based on Cesare Borgia?  This is up for considerable debate.

There are some obvious holes in the theory. Depictions of Christ resembling Borgia predate his life, and some websites perpetuating the theory use some dubious sources. However, there's no denying there's a marked similarity between Jesus and Borgia in paintings. Not to mention, Borgia may have had a relationship with Leonardo Da Vinci, the man largely responsible for popularizing images of Christ. If you're interested in learning more, read up on the facts and decide for yourself if the Borgia as Jesus theory holds any weight.

If this list leaves you more curious about the legends surrounding Jesus Christ, then check out the proof behind crucifixion and the ways in which the Bible you thought you knew is way different than the original.

  • According To The Theory, The Borgia Portrait Was Created By The Catholic Church During The Crusades

    According to the theory, Jesus was largely portrayed as a Middle Eastern figure prior to the crusades. During the crusades, European invaders were hesitant to kill enemies that resembled their savior. The Catholic church sought out a new face to use as the standard depiction of Jesus, settling upon the conventionally handsome face of Cesare Borgia.

  • Borgia Was The Son Of A Controversial Pope
    Photo: Giuseppe Lorenzo Gatteri / WikiMedia Commons / Public Domain

    Borgia Was The Son Of A Controversial Pope

    Borgia caused scandal simply by being born, as he was the illegitimate son of Pope Alexander VI. Many online sources spreading the Borgia-as-Jesus theory state Pope Alexander VI was a ruthless and corrupt criminal, but this reputation is somewhat undeserved. He was a controversial pope and the backlash against his practices led in part to the Protestant Reformation. However, Pope Alexander VI was not a dictator or criminal as frequently described both online and by bitter contemporaries.

  • Borgia May Have Murdered His Own Brother And Slept With His Sister

    As there was so much propaganda circulating throughout his reign, it’s hard to separate fact from fiction when it comes to Cesare Borgia. One of the most prevalent rumors during Borgia's time was that he murdered his younger brother Juan. Cesare was allegedly extremely jealous of his brother and – when Juan was murdered in 1497 under mysterious circumstances – there was speculation Cesare covertly carried out the attack. 

    However, not all historians buy this narrative. Papal states, as well as other Italian states, felt threatened by Borgia’s rise to power and disagreed with some of his military and leadership tactics. Anti-Cesare propaganda became commonplace, so the alleged murder may have been part of a smear campaign.

    This isn't the only rumor that sticks to Cesare's reputation like glue; for centuries there has been speculation of an inter-familial relationship between Cesare and his sister, Lucrezia Borgia. Lucrezia's reputation is nearly as infamous at Cesare's, and to this day it's impossible to have a truly clear idea of what their relationship was really like.

  • Leonardo da Vinci May Have Popularized The Image

    If the theory is correct, another reason Borgia was chosen as the face of Christ was due to Borgia's alleged friendship with Leonardo da Vinci. Da Vinci majorly contributed to the modern image of a Caucasian version of Christ via his paintings. Some think da Vinci modeled the image off of his friend Borgia.

    Some theories take it even further. There was speculation about Borgia’s possible bisexuality throughout his lifetime that has persisted to the present day. This has led to some rumors that Borgia and da Vinci were actually lovers and da Vinci modeled Christ off his partner as a romantic gesture.