Jacopo Bassano’s painting of Christ on the way to Calvary shows the moment at which the legendary St Veronica offers him her veil to wipe his face, leaving his portrait imprinted on the cloth. This came to be known as ‘the Veronica’ and was considered an authentic image of Christ. Here we see, not the portrait, but Christ himself and, perhaps even more arrestingly, Veronica taking on his likeness.
On her knees in the road, her posture reflects Christ’s, and her bare head (the other women are discreetly veiled, with downcast eyes) shows her crown of plaits, echoing Christ’s crown of thorns. Her mirroring of Christ is further revealed by her clothing. The sections of her white petticoat are loosely stitched, leaving almond-shaped openings which prefigure the shape of Christ’s side wound, while the vertical stitch marks bring to mind the flagellation marks hidden beneath Christ’s robe. As Christ is led by a rope, like a ‘sheep to be slaughtered’ (Romans 8:36) Veronica is alongside him in ‘tribulation’, ‘distress’, ‘persecution’, and ‘peril’ (v.35), and her hair and garments manifest this.
In part, this is a picture about picture-making, and the legendary origins of a foundational image of the adult Christ. It is also about a particular incidence of what one might now call ‘Christian witness’ or, perhaps, since she is in a sense an image-maker, ‘artist witness’. Veronica’s offering of her veil here is as much an offering of herself in conformity to Christ. And if she is not yet bodily redeemed (v.23), she is about to be blessed with the imprint on the veil, which cannot yet be seen but will become a source of hope and consolation to many (vv.24–25).
Kessler, H. L., and G. Wolf (eds). 1998. The Holy Face and the Paradox of Representation, Villa Spelman Colloquia, Volume 6 (Bologna: Nuova Alfa Editoriale)
Kuryluk, E. 1991. Veronica and Her Cloth: History, Symbolism, and Structure of a "True" Image (Oxford: Basil Blackwell)
Reddaway, Chloë. R. 2019. Strangeness and Recognition: Mystery and Familiarity in Renaissance Images of Christ (Turnhout: Brepols), pp.164–173
18 I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. 19For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God; 20for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of him who subjected it in hope; 21because the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God. 22We know that the whole creation has been groaning in travail together until now; 23and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. 24For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? 25But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.
26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words. 27And he who searches the hearts of men knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.
28 We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose. 29For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the first-born among many brethren. 30And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified.
31 What then shall we say to this? If God is for us, who is against us? 32He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, will he not also give us all things with him? 33Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies; 34who is to condemn? Is it Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised from the dead, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us? 35Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 36As it is written,
37No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.