SiStan ChapLee

Thursday, December 3, 2015

A Portrait of the Artist as a Holy Shroud

It is no secret that Albrecht Dürer saw himself as a sort of Christ, but this aspect can be further specified: as the Christ of the Holy Shroud (then usually kept in Chambéry, France; from 1578 in Turin, Italy). In his super-famous self-portrait of the year 1500, the artist even modified the shape of his own forehead and nose so as to look more like Him. A less known but even more interesting detail can be seen in Dürer's Lamentation of Christ, painted in the same period, 1500-1503, currently in Munich. Many Renaissance paintings show the dead Jesus lying on a white shroud, but Dürer -- possibly the only case, or a very rare one -- adds the marks of his blood. In the 16th century, in fact, the mysterious image, because of its color, was interpreted as the effect of Jesus' blood on the linen cloth.

Dürer never visited the Sainte-Chapelle but he didn't need to, since the cult of the Holy Shroud was widespread at that time, and the relic was represented everywhere. There even existed specialized artists who used -- sometimes, quite clumsy -- patterns to make their works, even if they had never seen the real object.

The Catholic Catechism of the Council of Trent (1566) seems to include references to the Shroud in its detailed description of Jesus' wounds: " . . . nulla fuit ejus corporis pars, quae gravissimas poenas non senserit, nam et pedes et manus clavis cruci affixae, caput spinis compunctum, et arundine percussum, facies sputis foedata, alapis caesa, totum corpus flagellis verberatum est."