We make an analogy between images and statistical mechanics systems. Pixel gray levels and the presence and orientation of edges are viewed as states of atoms or molecules in a lattice-like physical system. The assignment of an energy function in the physical system determines its Gibbs distribution. Because of the Gibbs distribution, Markov random field (MRF) equivalence, this assignment also determines an MRF image model. The energy function is a more convenient and natural mechanism for embodying picture attributes than are the local characteristics of the MRF. For a range of degradation mechanisms, including blurring, nonlinear deformations, and multiplicative or additive noise, the posterior distribution is an MRF with a structure akin to the image model. By the analogy, the posterior distribution defines another (imaginary) physical system. Gradual temperature reduction in the physical system isolates low energy states (``annealing''), or what is the same thing, the most probable states under the Gibbs distribution. The analogous operation under the posterior distribution yields the maximum a posteriori (MAP) estimate of the image given the degraded observations. The result is a highly parallel ``relaxation'' algorithm for MAP estimation. We establish convergence properties of the algorithm and we experiment with some simple pictures, for which good restorations are obtained at low signal-to-noise ratios.