Too Great to Be a Work of Art

Period. Not period-wise.

imageThanks to Colin Berry for pointing out a recent article in The Spectator by Dominic Selwood entitled If the Turin Shroud is the work of a medieval artist, it’s one of the greatest artworks ever created.

It concludes (and probably could have started with rather than laboring through so much marginally accurate narrative):

The detailed knowledge of the human body available to modern scientists may be relatively recent, but brilliant, inquisitive, ambitious human minds have always been with us — in the ancient and medieval worlds as much as today. There is no reason to exclude the possibility of an artist experimenting with cadavers in order to understand the physiology of death and post mortem blood flows from wounds. Ancient Greek sculptors were meticulous in their depiction of every vein and artery. In the 1400s, Leonardo da Vinci filled his sketchbooks with anatomical drawings of flayed body parts. Caravaggio reportedly used a drowned prostitute as his model for the ‘Death of the Virgin’ (1606). And Géricault studied dead bodies for his ‘Raft of the Medusa’ (1819). So why should anyone discount the idea that a talented medieval artist went to obsessive lengths to recreate the burial shroud of a crucified man?

And here is where we come face to face with our cultural arrogance, which assumes that because we cannot understand every detail of how the image on the shroud was created, then it could not have been made by people in the past, whom we assume — against all the evidence — were crude and barbarous.

The Turin Shroud does not have to date to the first century to be an object of fascination and inspiration. If it truly is the work of a medieval artist — which the historical, scientific, and visual evidence all suggest it is — then it is a genuine wonder that brings us into the presence of the genius of the medieval world, and gives us insight into an exceptional artistic mind that created one of the most graphic and emotional visualisations ever made of the dreadful injuries that Roman-style execution can inflict on a body.

Stephen Jones did notice the article. On his blog, Stephen correctly criticized some of Selwood’s understanding of the shroud’s history. However, when it came to the carbon dating, Stephen took issue solely with his nutty conspiracy theory about the KGB being involved in a plot to foil the carbon dating of the shroud:

There is much evidence that the laboratories were duped by a computer hacker, allegedly Arizona laboratory physicist, Timothy W. Linick. …

As for it being a “one of the greatest artworks ever created” Stephen throws this out for our consideration.

If those who claim that the Shroud is the work of a medieval artist were consistent, they would press for it to be included among "the greatest artworks ever created." That they don’t shows that they don’t really believe what they say, and they only say it to dismiss the Shroud as authentic, so that, like the proverbial ostrich with its head in the sand, they don’t have to consider that Christianity is true (which it is!).

I can’t buy that kind of outlandish logic from Stephen or anyone.  Selwood could be right. IF – and that is a BIG IF – the shroud is medieval art then it is PERHAPS – and that is a BIG PERHAPS – the greatest artwork ever created. 

I too am entitled to make outlandish arguments.  I think it is too great to be a work of art. Forget Selwood’s crapshoot argument about cultural arrogance. It is too great to be a work of art, period. Not period-wise.