Veronica’s Handkerchief by Gabriel Cornelius Ritter von Max
One of my daughters told me recently how scared she used to be of a framed picture that hangs inside our church near the entrance. It is a reproduction print of Veronica’s Handkerchief by Gabriel Cornelius Ritter von Max. She used to think that Jesus’ eyes were following her as she moved around the church, but on first glance Christ appears to have his eyes closed or does he?
Initially you appear to be gazing at the serene visage of Christ, when suddenly you think that his eyes have opened, which can be somewhat startling.
In fact the artist has used a very clever painting technique and in order to achieve this optical illusion he had to apply 14 different shades of paint to his canvas
The face itself appears to be in the centre of a slightly bloodied piece of linen or ancient handkerchief. In fact that is exactly what it is and the story behind it has its source within some of the Gospels.
The original owner of the handkerchief, a woman called Veronica, is named in an ancient gnostic manuscript called The Gospel of Nicodemus or Acts of Pilate. In it she is recorded as crying out from a distance in Jesus’ defence at his trial. Her act of faithfulness is due to her being indebted to him for curing her from a haemorrhage she had been suffering from for 12 years. This act of healing is recorded in three of the four Gospels (see Mark 5:25-34 for one account), although she is not named
She is believed to be the same one who rushed forward to wipe Jesus’ bleeding forehead with her handkerchief during the arduous walk to the Crucifixion. Her handkerchief came away slightly bloodied from contact with Jesus’ face, then an exact image of his face miraculously appeared at the centre of the cloth.
Allegedly the original handkerchief was held as a relic by the early church from the 8th century and was venerated for its supposed healing powers, one of whom of the recipients of this was said to be the Roman Emperor, Tiberius. However, like many relics, there are several who claim to possess the ‘original’, including the cities of Milan and Jaen.
Whatever, the origins of the subject, it is still an interesting painting and certainly makes you think about how, if God always has his eyes open and is watching us, then surely nothing can be hidden from his view – a fact that is probably more scary than the illusion in the artwork
Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account – Hebrews 4:13
I suspect that all of us from time to time have done something unworthy and persuaded ourselves that it’s okay, convincing ourselves that God won’t be looking; why would he concern himself with something so trivial. Or maybe we try putting on our ‘invisibility cloaks’ thinking nothing we do can be seen – a bit like a small child covering their eyes in a game of ‘peek-a-boo’, believing if they can’t see anybody then nobody can see them – yet, it’s usually just at that moment that God pops his head under the cloak enquiring what we might be getting up to under there!
It’s pretty impossible to never do anything wrong – in fact it is impossible – we’re human after all. But the beauty of God’s grace is that without even earning it it is given to us so that we can try again; and hopefully, because we know that God will be watching, we can make better choices in the future.
Eyes that see!