The Face of Christ

December 9, 2000 > May 14, 2001

9 December 2000 - 14 May 2001

The exhibition concluded the series of cultural initiatives promoted by the Jubilee in 2000. Through paintings, sculptures, religious objects, coins, manuscripts and illuminated codes, it retraced the history of the representation of the face of Christ, from its origins in the Church of the East and the West to the eighteenth century. It is a fascinating story, in which religious, political, and ethical matters are intertwined, all of them helping to shape the images that would become sources of inspiration for the artists of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, and up to the Baroque era.

Approximately one hundred works were on display, including priceless paintings on wood panels lent by private collections and churches that are difficult to visit, as well as important museums like the Musée du Louvre in Paris, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the National Art Gallery in Washington, the Staatliche Museen in Berlin and the British Library in London.

The exhibition was divided into seven sections. The first was devoted to early images of the face of Christ, whose features are still somewhat oriental in the seventh century, as shown by the gold coins from the reign of Justinian II. The other sections were each dedicated to one of the celebrated "acheropite" images that an early medieval tradition held were not painted by a human hand, but miraculously imprinted on fabrics and other materials: the acheropite of the Saviour, the Mandylion of Edessa, the Veronica, the Holy Face of Lucca, and the Sacred Shroud of Turin. Images that were objects of profound devotion over the centuries; images, therefore, that as such were venerated and carefully protected from harm. In addition, one section of the exhibition retraced the origins of the iconography for the profile of Christ, which appeared in art from the mid-fifteenth century, and which one legend holds derived from an image miraculously etched on a long-lost emerald.

Each of the different sections presented a selection of precious artifacts and works inspired by the acheropite images, from the copy of the Mandylion kept in the Palazzi Pontifici al Salterio, to the medallion by Andrea de' Pasti showing Christ in profile, to the etchings of Pietro Fontana and Albrecht Dürer; to paintings by, among others, Hans Hemling (Santa Veronica from the National Gallery in Washington), Filippino Lippi (The Holy Face of Lucca Among Angels and Saints from the Uffizi in Florence), Andrea Mantegna (the Dolorous Christ from the Museo Civico in Correggio) and Beato Angelico (Christ Crowned with Thorns from the Museo Civico "Giovanni Fattori" in Livorno).

Exhibition curated by Giovanni Morello, with Herbert L. Kessler and Gerhard Wolf.
Mounted by Lucio Turchetta.
Catalogue edited by Giovanni Morello and Gerhard Wolf, with essays by the curators and Jorge M.. Mejia, Hans Belting, Michele Bacci, Serena Romano, Maria Andaloro, Walter Angelelli, Enrico Parlato, Herbert L. Kessler, Philine Helas, Michele Camillo Ferrari and Ferdinando Molteni; published by Electa Editore, Milan 2000.