An Artful Relic: The Shroud of Turin in Baroque Italy by Andrew R. Casper is an impressive study of the impact of the Shroud of Turin on art, artists, and society in the 1500s-1600s. Not only is it lavishly illustrated, it also provides excellent historical data for those interested in the Shroud of Turin.
The thesis of the book is simple: the Shroud of Turin was immensely important in shaping art and even culture in Baroque Italy. That said, the work touches upon many important aspects for those interested in Shroud research. One aspect is the debate over its authenticity in history. While the debate over the Shroud’s authenticity continues today, the historical debate should inform those interested in the question. Casper notes that the acceptance of the Shroud’s authenticity in Italy (and elsewhere) was at least partially due to the immense influence of the House of Savoy. Their vested interest in making the Shroud a focal point for veneration and cultic worship greatly raised its esteem in Europe. Additionally, its survival of a fire in 1532 was seen as only explicable by miraculous intervention, thus leading more to accepting the Shroud as authentic (10). Neither of these, of course, will fully tilt opinion in modern minds regarding the Shroud’s authenticity. For people interested in that question, though, they should take into account the fact that the Shroud’s authenticity only became cemented in this time, and that its appearance in history cannot be traced to earlier than the latter half of the 1300s.
Casper draws attention to the way artists and others commented upon the supposed miraculous nature of the Shroud’s image in Baroque Italy. This included much comment on the way blood formed the image. The notion that the Shroud was explicitly a work of art made by God arose in this time period. It was insisted that God’s handiwork was shown with Christ’s blood as the pigmentation (57-58). These contentions had to deal with earlier Christian theology that argued against the possibility of Christ’s blood being left behind in the resurrection. For example, Aquinas had argued that because Christ’s body was true and complete in the Resurrection, the blood all rose with Christ “without any diminution” (73). Of course, not all Christian theology held to this view, and others argued that not all the blood had to be back in Christ’s body at the resurrection (74). The notion that it was the blood that formed the image stands in contrast to some modern arguments that radiation from the energy of resurrection formed the image. While it might be too strong to suggest that these two interpretations are irreconcilable, the inability to agree upon the formation of the Shroud remains an open question in research. Casper notes the blood as central to the veneration and worship of/around the Shroud in Baroque Italy, however. This would suggest that any modern explanation that does not hold to the same view has shown evolution from and important differences with earlier thought on the Shroud.
Casper goes over the influence of the Shroud on art in detail, noting the care with which copies were made, contrasting that with the apparent carelessness (or at least, lack of caring for) selection of artists to copy the Shroud was sometimes conducted. The Shroud and veneration thereof appeared all over in artwork, and influenced how illustrations of Christ were made. Casper forcefully makes the point that the Shroud as an artwork hasn’t been explored enough, and that its influence on contemporary artwork (here going with the assumption that it did not exist earlier than the 14th century) is quite strong.
Indeed, this raises a question for those who argue in favor of the Shroud’s authenticity: why did it not influence art so heavily before? While some arguments insist upon coins or certain icons being based upon the Shroud, no artwork exists depicting the Shroud qua Shroud prior to this time period. If the Shroud existed and was venerated in the 4th century or earlier, as some argue, why did artwork not depict it as such? No argument about the alleged secret history of the Shroud could work here, because if other artworks depicting Christ were widely distributed that depict a Christ allegedly based upon the Shroud of Turin, why could not the Shroud itself exist in such artworks? And why is it that only once an imminently powerful European family, the House of Savoy, threw their weight behind it that the Shroud rose in cultural prominence? One could anticipate various answers to these questions, but for this author, the answers are insufficient to demonstrate the Shroud’s actual existence prior to the 14th century. Indeed, the ubiquity and influence of the Shroud in and upon art in Baroque Italy seems an argument against its earlier existence.
Casper’s work is not, I should clarify, an argument for or against the authenticity of the Shroud. While he touches upon the question, his focus is almost entirely on the way the Shroud was depicted in art. nd this itself is a fascinating question. Casper presents many firsthand accounts of the Shroud, explanations of its depiction, and specific inquiries into artworks based upon it. The book therefore is of great interest to anyone interested in the Shroud of Turin.
An Artful Relic is a highly recommended read. It clearly demonstrates the influence of the Shroud in Baroque Italy and raises many questions and paths of research into religious art and the Shroud specifically. Those interested in the question of its authenticity should also read the book and see what questions and answers may come to mind based upon Casper’s thorough research.
The Shroud of Turin- An Apologetics Sinkhole? – My first post in the series on the Shroud of Turin in which I comment broadly about my interest in it and why I think it demonstrates so many problems.
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