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Confusion About Images of Jesus

It is interesting to note Edward J. Sozanski’s point of view Philadelphia Inquirer. Was mythological the right word to use? Would biblical and traditional sources not have been more accurate, in the first paragraph? Later he uses “traditional” sources, by which he means specifically the Veil of Veronica and the Mandylion. Which of the many textile images does he mean? Those that he probably means were almost certainly not sources. And he tells us they can’t withstand forensic scrutiny. What scrutiny is that? There has been some, of course, but it is not all that comprehensive or that conclusive. He writes:

. . . the point, after all, is Rembrandt’s idea to represent Jesus not as a divine presence derived primarily from mythological sources, but as a flesh-and-blood person.

Many paintings in the show that present Jesus this way, including two other Rembrandt-studio copies of lost pictures, are consistent in this regard. The issue then becomes, is absolute naturalism, in the person of a living model, a plausible way to portray a man believed by Christians to be the Son of God, given that no one knows what Jesus looked like?

It’s as reasonable as using traditional sources, which can’t withstand rigorous forensic scrutiny. They include two legendary textiles – the Veil of Veronica and the Mandylion, bearing images of Christ’s face – and a letter, probably apocryphal, purported to have been written by Publius Lentulus, a supposed Roman governor of Judea before Pilate, that includes a partial description of Jesus.

The two textiles, like the controversial Shroud of Turin, are supposed to bear a likeness that was transferred when the cloths were pressed to Jesus’ face – in the case of the Mandylion by Jesus himself.

The Lentulus letter describes Jesus as having long hair "the color of a ripe hazelnut," which is why the canonical Jesus usually has brown hair. Rembrandt gave his Jesus black hair.

Canonical Jesus? The term usually refers to non-Gnostic or in the more modern sense a traditional understanding of Jesus rather the interpretations and beliefs of the “historical Jesus” movements from Albert Schweitzer to the Jesus Seminar. But okay, it can apply to art, I guess! However since the Lentulus letter wasn’t even discovered until the 15th century, if not made up then, it would have been a neat trick for artists before then to have used it as a guide to the color of Jesus’ hair. I’m inclined to think there are other more likely sources such as the Christ Pantocrator, an icon at St. Catherine’s Monastery in the Sinai that dates back to about 550 A.D.

What are the Veil of Veronica and the Mandylion to which Sozanski’s is referring? There can be no end of confusion here. There is The Holy Face of Genoa, kept in the Church of St. Bartholomew of the Armenians in Genoa. Some believe this is the Mandylion of Edessa while others, including me, think the Shroud of Turin is what became to be known as the Mandylion in mid-to-late-Babylonian Christendom. Another is something else called the Mandylion of Edessa, once kept in the Church of Saint Silvestro in Rome and now kept in the Matilda chapel in the Vatican. These two images look remarkably alike. They do have some similarities to the facial image on the shroud; at least the long thin nose and the long hair. But the eyes are not owlish and the beard is apparently not forked. Unlike the shroud, these images are not negative images, are not monochromatic and appear to have been painted. (It is the forensics, here, that fail, not to scrutiny). There is a sense of photorealism to them and yet they seem primitive at the same time. Whether or not they are what the claim to be, authentic acheiropoieta is beyond our scope here.

There are, in addition to these two icons, at least five more are claimed to be the true image made when Veronica wiped Jesus brow during his walk to Calgary: 1) The Veronica kept at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. 2) The Holy Face at the The Hofburg Palace in Vienna. 3) The Holy Face at the Monastery of the Holy Face in Alicante, Spain. 4) The Holy Face at the cathedral of Jaén in southern Spain. 5) Veronica, a facial portrait of a man at a Capuchin monastery in Manoppello, Italy. Unlike the other claimants, it does not have a cut-out frame. Unlike the other images, it seems most like an early Renaissance painting. : From iconic to naturalistic Jesus

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