From Rome to Eternity: Catholicism and the Arts in Italy, ca. 1550-1650

By Pamela M. Jones; Thomas Worcester | Go to book overview

THE SOVEREIGNTY OF THE PAINTED IMAGE:
POETRY AND THE SHROUD OF TURIN

Sheldon Grossman

And death once dead, there's no more dying then

William Shakespeare; from Sonnet 146

The Shroud of Turin—the putative image of Christ's suffering body— had the potential of being a unique Christian relic and it is this essential quality that may have seemed paramount in the middle of the fifteenth century when it was acquired by the Duke of Savoy.1 Whereas a multitude of saints' relics were reminders of their martyrdoms in imitation of Christ, relics of Christ's own supreme sacrifice were comparatively rare. Moreover, by containing evidence of all of Christ's wounds, it purported to be an epitome of his final sufferings

1 The Shroud of Turin is an especially well-known object and is not, therefore,
illustrated in the present essay. The reader may be referred to Wilson (1978 and
1998) and Scott (1995) for a wide range of illustrations.

Much of the material contained in the present essay was first presented at the
Sixteenth Century Studies Conference in Toronto on October 23, 1998 during the
session [Literate Artists and Artistic Literati.] I should like to thank Leatrice
Mendelsohn, chair of the session, for her support. Her incisive reaction to the mate-
rial's significance was most encouraging. The subject as it is treated here is actu-
ally just one aspect of a much larger study that has evolved from the work initially
developed in my essay on Caravaggio's painting in the Vatican Collections, the so-
called Deposition from the Chiesa Nuova, for which see Grossman (1984). Among
those who have been supportive of my efforts to return to the subject, I should
especially like to thank Craig Hugh Smyth and Donald Posner. I benefitted enor-
mously from a Paul Mellon Visiting Senior Fellowship at the Center for Advanced
Study in the Visual Arts, National Gallery of Art, during the summer of 1997.

The title of the present essay derives from the title of Ernst Kantorowicz's arti-
cle (1961) [The Sovereignty of the Artist: A Note on Legal Maxims and Renaissance
Theories of Art.] I have always considered this article to be a particularly brilliant
effort as well as a novel attempt to define the role of the artist in the context of
art theory in the late Middle Ages and early Renaissance. The concept of 'The
Sovereignty of the Painted Image' as I have formulated it in the following essay
appears, in fact, to have been the historical outcome in the early modern period
of what developed, according to Kantorowicz, in the earlier periods. It has, most
importantly I believe, allowed for a true multi-dimensional approach, because of
the rift within Catholicism and the often iconoclastic position of various Protestant
sects, to the question of images and their significance in the period around 1600.
I believe this notion will become apparent in the concluding sections of the essay.

-179-

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