The Holy Face

This image represents the Holy Face, one of the most significant images in Christian devotion. The story of the Holy Face is associated with the Passion of Christ. A woman named Veronica encountered Christ as he was carrying the cross, and she wiped his blood and sweat with her veil. Miraculously Christ’s face came to be imprinted on the cloth. This image was significant for believers because it provided them with tangible proof of Christ, and it gave them a concrete physical object connected to this biblical event. This specific panel would have been used as an object of devotion in a private home, reminding the owners of some of the most important events in Christianity.

Man's face with long brown hair and beard. Wears a crown of thorns and has blood dripping from his forehead, cheek, nose, and mouth. The face is on a sheet and the sheet is hanging on a wooden cross. The cross is surrounded by holy objects related to the Crucifixion of Jesus Christ.
The Holy Face, 19th Century

The official title of this work is El Divino Rostro (Veronica’s Veil or the Divine Face). This piece was made in the 19th century in Mexico and the artist is unknown. The work consists of oil painting on a tin surface, enclosed within a painted wooden frame. In this image, we see a painted depiction of Christ’s face imprinted on a piece of cloth. The cloth has a grey border and a white center where Christ’s face is located. The top two corners of the cloth are nailed to a wooden cross. On the central portion of the cross there is a ribbon showing the letters INRI. In the upper right corner of the image there is a ladder. Hanging from the ladder is a red string or rope of some kind and possibly a white lantern at the bottom. Below that there is a black/grey figure eight object. On the bottom right corner of the piece, there is a rooster with a red head and tail, and a brown body. Directly below Christ’s face there are three black nails. On the bottom left corner of the piece, there is a white circular object with grid marks covering it. There are the numbers three and zero inside the object. There is also a wooden hammer. Above the hammer there is a green plant, possibly corn. In the upper right corner, there is a light brown sponge in a circular shape. The figure of Christ has brown hair that is parted in the middle and travels down to the tip of his beard. His beard covers the area around his upper lip, the sides of his face, and his chin. His eyes are almond shaped and his nose is elongated. All of his facial features look very sculpted. He is wearing a green crown made of thorns from which blood is dripping. On his right cheek, there is some grey pigmentation and red blood that possibly shows a wound. There is also blood coming from both his nostrils and his right ear. The entire piece is inside a blue wooden frame that is made of one piece but carved into small squares. Each square contains a geometric design consisting of a yellow square, four white oval marks, and a green x.


Holy Face

The religious significance relates to events that took place leading up to the crucifixion of Christ. All the objects described above are known as “instruments of the Passion” that remind viewers of important elements of the Passion narrative. For example, the rooster, the bag with 30 silver pieces, the nails, etc. are all objects associated with the events. The piece is a Christian relic of a piece of cloth, which bears the face of Christ not made by human hands. The present form was not recorded until the Middle Ages. It was then during the 14th century that it became a central icon, especially in the Western Church. The Holy Face is oil on tin in a painted wood artist-made frame. During this time, wood was used for various projects, and served more functions than any other material in northern New Spain. It was used for its beauty and strength, and painting on the wood was very common. There are multiple images connected with the Veil of Veronica, including: The Holy Face of Jaen, The Holy Face of Alicante, The Holy Face of Vienna and The Vatican Veronica. There are also multiple variations of The Holy Face connected to different traditions and cultures; however, all would be in the form of a small retablo.

Small retablos are devotional pieces on rectangular sheets of tin that illustrate holy images such as Christ. Since the piece was painted on tin, a relatively inexpensive material at the time, it is likely that the piece was usually in a home or small community. The people would have prayed in a private setting to the piece to honor the journey of Christ on his way to his crucifixion. This is an image of Christ’s face on Veronica’s veil. Later on, small oil painted retablos generated the need for factories in order to reproduce the same images, and sell to faithful followers of the Catholic Church and religion. Retablos were sold to devout believers who would then display the pieces in their own

Holy Face

altars in their homes. They were mostly used to honor the saints.

The blue in the frame represents “…Heaven, truth, hope, and spiritual love, is always associated with the Virgin in her role as Queen of Heaven.” The gold on the frame “symbolizes celestial light, beauty, perfection, incorruptibility, spiritual virtues, and eternity.” The red blood dripping from the face of Christ is, “associated with emotions, royalty, divine love, faith, charity, and the Holy Spirit.”


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