Veronica and her Cloth

Ewa Kuryluk
Veronica and her Cloth
  • Wydawnictwo Literackie
    Kraków 1998
    144 x 205
    348 pages  + 20 pages of illustrations 
    ISBN: 83-08-02816-0
    1st edition in English by the author (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1991)

The Polish edition of this known painter, writer, art historian's book, bearing the subtitle History, Symbolism and Structure of a "True" Imagine, is a superb study on the motif of the "true" portrait of Christ in art, in which the author reconstructs the Christian legend of this image, describing the outline of its history in the East and West, showing the link of this phenomenon with ancient mythology, as well as explaining to the reader the subject of "vera icon" (true likeness) in the art of Byzantium and the West. As we read in the introduction to this fascinating study: "Although the head-cloth of Veronica took on a different meaning, the sexual symbolism did not disappear. Quite the opposite, it was strengthened by the mystical eroticism and artistic realism of the late Middle Ages. The fifteenth century images of Veronica and Christ are portraits of living people, and at the same time representations of a pair of gods." "Veronica's piece of cloth is a symbol. As the author has rightly stated: egalitarian, universally accessible 'where the image speaks more to the man than the word'. From canvas is born a living portrait."

- Gazeta Wyborcza in Cracow

After the publication of Veronica and Her Cloth the American writer and art historian Charles Simic called Ewa Kuryluk "one of the best art historians of our time". Julia Kristeva called Kuryluk's book in the French magazine Artpress"a fine piece of work" that "has revealed the importance of women's role in the creation of the vernicles".

Indeed. This interdisciplinary book is the first modern study of Christ's "true portrait", a miraculous image which was not "made by hand", but obtained directly from Jesus' face by Veronica, a medieval saint. The "true portrait" - a sort of a "pre-photograph" - is a theme central to Western art and belief, and fascinating topic in our age the simulacrum. The ambitious and original author draws on a richness of legends, chronicles, iconography, and contemporary theory, and brings imagination and poetic insight to her erudite study of art and religion. Ewa Kuryluk has the gift of bold imagination, and her book makes exhilarating reading. Veronica and Her Cloth, a successful book in English, Italian, Portugese and Polish, needs to be translated into many more languages.

Veronica and Her Cloth Wherever you go in Europe, if you should drop into the local church of the most obscure of villages, you are likely to see on its walls paintings or reliefs of the way of the cross and find, at station number six, a man facing a woman who holds a piece of white cloth in her hands. The cloth may be blank or it may bear the portrait of a man, and if you are from a Catholic background or versed in European art, you'll recognize the couple as Jesus and Veronica and the cloth as her vernicle. You'll probably also recall the legend of Veronica who, as Christ passed on his way to Golgotha, wiped his sweating and bleeding face with her napkin, which received his impression - the only "true" portrait Jesus left to humanity. The Veronica myth is derived from a New Testament episode which was given further attention in the apocryphal Syriac and Greek texts written during the first Christian centuries in Asia Minor and often connected to the city od Edessa in Syria. The relevant biblical scene (Mt. 9: 20-22; Mk. 5: 25-34; Lk. 8: 43-48) is the curing of the Hemorrhissa, the anonymous woman with the issue of blood, a permanent menstruation, whose flux stops when she touches the hem of Jesus' dress. The healing if the Hemorrhissa looms large because Jesus stresses his contact with the woman, by declaring that power has left him, and insists on identifying the person to whom it has gone. The divine "power" sugests a mystical conception like the Holy Virgin's and r elates the Hemorrhissa to the mother of Jesus, and her curing to the incarnation. The affinity incited thee imagination of innumerable generations of Christians and enticed them to pursue the exciting reverie of what happens to an earthly woman when she becomes involved with Man-God. The fantasy developed according to common sense. A symbolic pregnancy was followed by the birth of a symbolic son - initially not a "true" image but just a statue of Jesus. However, in life as in legend, the appearance of a thing has more impact than its actual form. Once it was established that the Hemorrhissa was the originator of Christ's portrait, the myth was drafted and one could proceed toward more elegant solutions, increasingly simple and more dualistic. In Judaism, a non-iconic religion, menstruation is tied to reproduction and tabooed, the blood males shed at circumcision is treated as sacred ink for the signing if the covenant with God - masculine divinity, invisible and linguistic - and for writing the Word. In Christianity, a religion of incarnation, i.e. of material reproduction, menstruation is needed, and so it is rehabilitated in e Hemorrhissa episode. As physical femininity is added to spiritual masculinity, language is joined by vision. Dissenting from Judaism in a late Hellenistic world saturated with images, Christianity is initially reluctant to embrace icons. But the existence of Jesus, a vera icon of divinity created in Mary's flesh, calls for representation. The New Testament adds to the linguistic God Father, who prefers to talk to men, a visual God Son, a good friend of women, who after his resurrection appears to Mary Magdalen, signaling his interest in femininity even from beyond the grave.