The Life Of Our Lord Jesus Christ by James Tissot (1896)

Jesus Sits by the Seashore and Preaches, from The Life of Our Lord Jesus Christ by James Tissot, Brooklyn Museum of Art, New York

Some conversions of faith are quiet events in the stillness of one’s heart.  Others, however, are epiphanies of disquieting thunder.  Such was the case with James Tissot.  Already a successful painter whose playboy reputation was apparently well-earned, Tissot was changed by a vision he experienced during mass.  This single event profoundly altered his course for the rest of his life.

As Terry Glaspey explains in 75 Masterpieces Every Christian Should Know :

Though extremely popular in his day, in our time James Tissot has been largely relegated to a footnote in nineteenth-century art history. But when his carefully researched collection of 350 watercolors depicting the life of Jesus was first published as a book in 1896, it found a large and enthusiastic audience. No one who had followed his previous career could have anticipated that this painter of urban life in Paris and London would undertake the project of painting virtually every event in the Gospels.

The Life of Our Lord Jesus Christ project took nearly ten years to complete. When it was done, it chronicled the entire life of Jesus as recorded in the New Testament in a series of 350 watercolors. To research the project Tissot traveled to Egypt, Syria, and Palestine in 1886–87, and again in 1890. While in the Holy Land he closely observed the landscape, the vegetation, the architecture, and the manner of dress, and filled sketchbooks with what he saw. He talked with rabbis and studied Talmudic literature as well as theological and historical volumes. He believed that there was still a remaining “aura” in the places where the Gospel events took place, and he spoke of having mystical experiences that added to his careful research. What he wanted to create was something as close as possible to an eyewitness account of the life of Jesus.

Has your relationship with God included an epiphany?

John 1: 1-5

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.

D I G  D E E P E R

James Tissot

James Tissot, self-portrait

(1836–1902), French Bible illustrator. He was a painter of fashionable women in Paris before he fled to England in 1871. Here he became known by his caricatures for Vanity Fair and as a portrait and genre painter. Later he returned to Paris, where his art underwent a complete change owing to an experience of conversion, and henceforth he devoted himself to the illustration of the Life of Christ, for which purpose he made comprehensive studies in Palestine. His Vie de Notre-Seigneur Jésus-Christ (1896) is a series of some 350 watercolours, representing the scenes of the Gospel in a fresh and unconventional style which abandons the traditional types. It was followed by an unfinished sequence of illustrations to the OT which, however, are inferior in quality to the earlier work.

An edn. of the OT (Gen.-Job, with some additions) in Fr., incorporating Tissot’s illustrations, was pub., with preface by A. D. Sertillanges, 2 vols., Paris, 1904; with text in Eng., 2 vols., London, 1904. J. Laver, ‘Vulgar Society’: The Romantic Career of James Tissot, 1836–1902 (1936); M. Wentworth, James Tissot (Oxford, 1984); K. Matyjaszkiewicz (ed.), James Tissot (1984); C. Wood, The Life and Work of Jacques Joseph Tissot (1986); N. R. Marshall and M. Warner, James Tissot: Victorian Life/Modern Love (New Haven and London [1999]).

Sources and Resources

F. L. Cross and Elizabeth A. Livingstone, eds., The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), 1637.

Dolkart, Judith, ed. James Tissot: The Life of Jesus. New York: Brooklyn Museum/Merrill, 2009.
Muffs, Yochanan, and Gert Schiff. James Tissot: Biblical Paintings. New York: The Jewish Museum, 1982.
Warner, Malcolm. Tissot. London: Medici Society, 1982.

Terry Glaspey, 75 Masterpieces Every Christian Should Know: The Fascinating Stories behind Great Works of Art, Literature, Music, and Film (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2015).


Terry Glaspey


Terry Glaspey

I’m really looking forward to discussing my book, “75 Masterpieces Every Christian Should Know,” with the members of Literary Life Book Club. I can’t wait to hear your thoughts and perspectives on some of the art, music, and literature you’ll discover in the book. I’m interested in how it speaks to you in your life and the ways it inspires, challenges, or maybe even annoys you! I’ll try to share some “deleted scenes” stuff I had to leave out and will tell a few stories about what I experienced while doing the writing and research. Hope that many of you can join us as we look at he stories behind some truly wonderful art.

Let’s explore together!


Join the discussion with Terry on Facebook HERE

Terry Glaspey is a writer, an editor, a creative mentor, and someone who finds various forms of art—painting, films, novels, poetry, and music—to be some of the places where he most deeply connects with God.

He has a master’s degree in history from the University of Oregon (Go Ducks!), as well as undergraduate degrees emphasizing counseling and pastoral studies.

He has written over a dozen books, including 75 Masterpieces Every Christian Should Know:  Fascinating Stories Behind Great Art, Music, Literature, and Film, Not a Tame Lion: The Spiritual Legacy of C.S. Lewis, The Prayers of Jane Austen, 25 Keys to Life-Changing Prayer, Bible Basics for Everyone, and others.

Terry enjoys writing and speaking about a variety of topics including creativity and spirituality, the artistic heritage of the Christian faith, the writing of C.S. Lewis, and creative approaches to apologetics.

He serves on the board of directors of the Society to Explore and Record Church History and is listed in Who’s Who in America Terry has been the recipient of a number of awards, including a distinguished alumni award and the Advanced Speakers and Writers Editor of the Year award.

Terry has two daughters and lives in Eugene, Oregon.

Dig Deeper at


Some of the greatest painters, musicians, architects, writers, filmmakers, and poets have taken their inspiration from their faith and impacted millions of people with their stunning creations. Now readers can discover the stories behind seventy-five of these masterpieces and the artists who created them. From the art of the Roman catacombs to Rembrandt to Makoto Fujimura; from Gregorian Chant to Bach to U2; from John Bunyan and John Donne to Flannery O’Connor and Frederick Buechner; this book unveils the rich and varied artistic heritage left by believers who were masters at their craft.

Terry Glaspey, 75 Masterpieces Every Christian Should Know: The Fascinating Stories behind Great Works of Art, Literature, Music, and Film (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2015).

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Rick Wilcox

Editor in Chief | Literary Life