© Stephen E. Jones
"5 minutes with ... The earliest painted representation of the Turin Shroud," Christie's, 7 June 2016. Medieval and Renaissance manuscripts specialist Eugenio Donandoni explains how while looking through a series of unrecorded illuminations in a 16th-century prayerbook he made one quite startling discovery
[Above (enlarge): "The double-page depiction of the Turin Shroud in its undamaged state, held by three Bishops, is perhaps the earliest explicit painted representation of the holy relic as we know it today."]
This is not necessarily the earliest painted copy of the Shroud. The Lier copy of the Shroud, dated 1516, kept in the Church of St. Gommaire, Lier, Belgium, and attributed to Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528) is generally regarded as the earliest known surviving, painted, copy of the Shroud.
And this article speculates (see below) that this prayerbook copy of the Shroud may have been painted after a visit in 1512 by Johann von Erlach (1474-1539) to Charles III, Duke of Savoy (1486–1553), at Chambéry, who may have given von Erlach a private viewing of the Shroud.
"1521 ... Shroud exhibited at Chambéry ... Carried by three bishops, it is shown on the castle walls, and then for privileged observers hung over the high altar of the Sainte Chapelle, Chambéry."And the background in the above Shroud copy is outdoors, with paving under the bishops' feet and green fields behind them, not of a private viewing inside Chambéry's Royal Chapel. Such open-air public expositions of the Shroud were held at Chambéry pre-1532, "from the top of the walls of the château in the direction of a certain meadow" (my emphasis):
"Early sources are frustratingly vague about the public ostensions [expositions] held at Chambéry. No detailed descriptions have been located, but we are told in a travel diary of 1517 that the public exhibition took place `from the top of the walls of the château in the direction of a certain meadow that is there outside the town for the convenience of the pilgrims.'"and they continued after the fire up to at least 1561, "facing the open fields" (my emphasis):
"In August 1561 the minutes of the Senate of Savoy record ostensions in two locations: one from a `newly made gallery' erected on the city walls facing the open fields of Verney and, two days later, another showing `en la place du Chateau.' In the latter instance the preposition `en' suggests the possibility that the display was mounted at or near the level of the square, presumably from a temporary stage."So this prayerbook copy of the Shroud, while earlier than 1532 when the Shroud was damaged by a fire in the Sainte Chapelle, Chambéry, seems unlikely to be earlier than the Lier copy of 1516.
`What first drew me to this manuscript was the fact that it contained previously unrecorded illuminations by the Master of Claude de France,' explains Medieval and Renaissance manuscripts specialist Eugenio Donadoni. This article does not clarify that Claude de France (1499–1524), was a woman, in fact the below-mentioned, "Queen of France, wife of François I," i.e. King Francis I (1494–1547). And while I don't expect the article to have mentioned it, she was the mother of Margaret of France (1559–74), who married the very powerful and very important for Savoy and Shroud history, Duke Emmanuel Philibert of Savoy (1553–1580), and they had only one child, the also very important Charles Emmanuel I, Duke of Savoy (1562–1630), and in fact Queen Claude of France was an ancestor of all subsequent Dukes of Savoy.
The Master of Claude de France was `a brilliantly accomplished' anonymous artist named after two manuscripts he painted for the Queen of France, wife of François I. `That on its own is a great selling point,' confirms the specialist. While this "Master of Claude de France" is very important from an art perspective, and therefore for the "selling point" value of this prayerbook, it is irrelevant from the Shroud's perspective because, as the article later states (see below), "There is another artist at work in the manuscript - probably Swiss" and it was this unknown artist who painted the Shroud copy.
It was when the manuscript finally came into the office for Donadoni to catalogue, however, that he discovered the stories it revealed were far more compelling and fascinating than he could ever have expected. ... `First, I identified the coat of arms on the opening leaf, and consequently the armour-clad man in the portrait kneeling beside his name-saint John the Baptist,' he recalls. Presumably this should have been "name-sake"?
... There is another artist at work in the manuscript - probably Swiss - and this, says Donadoni, is `where it gets interesting'. One of the double-page illustrations by this second artist shows three bishops holding what at first glance looks like a long, unfurled banner. ... The double-page depiction of the Turin Shroud in its undamaged state, held by three Bishops, is perhaps the earliest explicit painted representation of the holy relic as we know it today See above. By "undamaged state" is meant before the fire of 1532 (see below).
`We had, at first, thought that the banner may have originally carried an inscription, now erased, but on closer inspection we noticed extremely faint - almost imperceptible - front-and-back images of a naked, bearded man with shoulder-length hair and hands folded across his groin, and what seemed like droplets of blood and a wound in his side,' the specialist recounts.
[Left (enlarge): The prayerbook copy of the Shroud, enlarged, rotated and cropped. As can be seen, the back (upper) copy depicts a pair of L-shaped `poker holes' and the pool of blood in the small of the man's back. Both front and back images show the man's shoulders and upper arms which were lost in the 1532 fire, and the front and back head images have blood from the crown (or cap) of thorns. And the front (lower) copy depicts the blood from the spear wound in the side and one of the L-shaped `poker holes'.]
`This was then clearly a unique depiction of the Shroud of Turin,' he says, ... It is trivially true that this prayerbook copy is "unique," just as every other painting is. However, if by "unique" Donadoni means that it was painted before the 1532 fire, then that is false because the 1516 Lier copy also was. ... referring to the linen cloth in which Jesus of Nazareth was wrapped and is now kept in the Royal Chapel of the Cathedral of St John the Baptist in Turin. It sounds like Donadoni is himself a Shroud pro-authenticist because most writers of secular articles about the Shroud say something like, "The Shroud of Turin ... a length of linen cloth bearing the image of a man, is believed by some Christians to be the burial shroud of Jesus of Nazareth..." not "the linen cloth in which Jesus of Nazareth was wrapped ..." (my emphasis)! But on the other hand Donadoni evidently did not know about the Lier copy (see below) so perhaps I am reading too much into his words.
The history of the Shroud in the 15th and 16th centuries is well recorded: in 1453 it was bequeathed to the House of Savoy and was stored in Chambéry, the capital of the region: `We know that in 1512 Johann von Erlach travelled on a diplomatic mission to meet Charles III, Duke of Savoy, so it is not implausible that on such an occasion he could have been shown the Shroud.' It is implausible. The Savoys did not grant private expositions of the Shroud to mere envoys on diplomatic missions. Could he have been so inspired by the visit that he had the holy relic reproduced in his prayerbook?' There is no need to speculate that von Erlach was inspired by a private viewing of the Shroud to have a miniature copy painted for his prayerbook. As pointed out above, there was a public exposition of the Shroud at Chambéry in 1521, and von Erlach could have seen the Shroud then. And he may simply have bought this painted miniature copy of the Shroud to put in his prayerbook.
`Even more fascinating is the manner in which it is depicted,' continues Donadoni. The Shroud was damaged by a fire in 1532 and somewhat clumsily repaired with patches by the Poor Clare Nuns. Calling the Poor Clare Nuns' 1534 repairs to the fire-damage Shroud, "clumsy" fails to understand that they were not professional restorers and they were no doubt under strict instructions what they could and could not do. Evidently their task was to remove burnt areas of the Shroud and then cover over with patches the unsightly charred holes that remained.
Giulio Clovio, one of the great artists of the Italian Renaissance, would paint a version of the Shroud in his 1540 Descent from the Cross [Right (enlarge): Even enlarged I cannot make out the Shroud fire damage Donadoni mentions], and that representation - as with all other surviving representations - clearly shows the damage suffered in the fire. It seems that this Christie's "Medieval and Renaissance manuscripts specialist" is not an art specialist because he evidently does not know about the 1516 Lier copy above, which does not show the damage suffered in the 1532 fire because it pre-dated it.
`The double-page depiction of the Turin Shroud in this manuscript shows it in its undamaged state,' Donadoni points out, `which means that it is therefore perhaps the earliest painted representation of the holy relic as we know it today!' No. See above. While this prayerbook copy of the Shroud is presumably pre-1532, there is no reason to think it is earlier that the 1516 Lier copy. As pointed out above, Donadoni's speculation that just because von Erlach paid a diplomatic visit to Duke Charles III of Savoy at Chambéry in 1512, that is no reason to think that von Erlach was given a private viewing of the Shroud. And as we saw, it is evident from the prayerbook painting itself that the setting of the exposition was outdoors, on a paved area with a green background representing the fields around Chambéry where there are records that public expositions of the Shroud were held before (and after) the 1532 fire.
Nevertheless, despite these unnecessary and ill-founded speculations by Donadoni, this Johann von Erlach (1474-1539) prayerbook miniature copy of the Shroud is presumably the second earliest, after the 1516 Lier copy, surviving painted copy of the Shroud!
1. This post is copyright. Permission is granted to extract or quote from any part of it (but not the whole post), provided the extract or quote includes a reference citing my name, its subject heading, its date, and a hyperlink back to it. [return]
2. Hynek, R.W., 1951, "The True Likeness," , Sheed & Ward: London, p.11; Humber, T., 1978, "The Sacred Shroud," , Pocket Books: New York NY, p.37; Guerrera, V., 2001, "The Shroud of Turin: A Case for Authenticity," TAN: Rockford IL, p.106. [return]
3. Moretto, G., 1999, "The Shroud: A Guide," Paulist Press: Mahwah NJ, p.18. [return]
4. Wilson, I., 1996, "Shroud History: Highlights of the Undisputed History," Shroud.com. [return]
5. Scott, J.B., 2003, "Architecture for the Shroud: Relic and Ritual in Turin," University of Chicago Press: Chicago & London, p.47. [return]
6. Scott, 2003, p.47. [return]
7. Jones, S.E., 2016, "Savoy Family Tree," Ancestry.com.au (members only). [return]
8. "Shroud of Turin," Wikipedia, 27 July 2016. [return]
Posted: 26 July 2016. Updated: 4 August 2016.