The Veil of Saint Veronica | Francisco de Zurbaran
The Veil of Saint Veronica
The legendary portrait of Christ counts as an image “not fashioned by human hand”, the miraculous imprint on a piece of cloth created by direct contact with the holy body. Western Christendom identified the “true” portrait as the image of Jesus’ countenance imprinted on a veil that the legendary figure known as Veronica used to wipe sweat and blood from his brow on the way to Golgotha. The supposedly genuine relic (vera icona) was displayed in St Peter’s in Rome, before all trace of it was eventually lost. Zurbarán depicts the dramatically side-lit linen cloth in such a hyper-realistic manner that it invites our tactile response. The painter conveys the impression that he has taken an actual cloth as his model and nailed it to the wall. Instead of simply reproducing the relic, Zurbarán brings all his artistry into play in creating an image of great pathos, a “humanised” portrait of the suffering and patient Christ crowned with thorns. As in the later photographic development process, the portrait comes hazily into focus, as if emerging from the white of the cloth. In a way that mirrors the visionary experience of contemporary religious devotion, the viewer must “complete” the image in his imagination.