04 July 2016

The face of Jesus in art

If, like me, you are a fan of images from illuminated manuscripts, you might consider following @SexyCodicology on Twitter to see images like this one from a medieval Book of Hours:
Book of Hours of Daniel Rym, Deposition, Walters Manuscript W.166, fol. 117v

While the page is beautiful in many regards, what most caught my attention was the face of Jesus below the deposition scene:

This particular Book of Hours is from the early part of the fifteenth century, but I knew that simply by looking at the depiction of Jesus' face, which bears a striking resemblance to the Volto Santo of Manoppello:

It was only after the sudarium was brought to Manoppello from Rome after the sack in 1527 by the German emperor that the depiction of Jesus' face drifted rather remarkably from the face we see in this veil of byssus. This change is most clearly seen in depictions of the Veil of Veronica (which, in reality, is the Veil of Manoppello).

Prior to the sack of Rome in 1527, the face of Jesus is frequently depicted with open eyes, a slightly open mouth, and a slight tuft of hair at the center of the forehead; after the sack of 1527, his face is shown with closed eyes, a closed mouth, and the tuft of hair is gone. In fact, prior to 1527, the depiction of Jesus' face most closely resembles the Veil of Manoppello; after 1527, the depiction of Jesus' face most closely resembles the Shroud of Turin. The first shows Jesus risen from the dead; the second shows him dead.

If you keep your eyes open and look at the face of Jesus as depicted by artists, you can tell which cloth they attempted to copy. I prefer the ones that seek to copy the Veil of Manoppello.


  1. Very beautiful! I prefer the veil Manoppello as well. Once you have seen it, nothing else can come close. I have a question though, you wrote the veil was brought to Manoppello "by the German emperor." I am astonished! That is the first time I have heard that said. I've read "by a mysterious stranger." Can you elaborate a little more on that? (Hope you are saving all these wonderful images!)

    1. You're correct that the emperor did not bring the Veil to Manoppello; I only meant that the emperor sacked Rome. Perhaps I should have been clearer.

  2. Ha! My fault! It was the way I read it! Thanks!