MASTER of Saint Veronica
(active 1400-1420 in Cologne)
St. Veronica with the Holy Kerchiefc. 1420
Tempera on oak, 78 x 48 cm
Alte Pinakothek, Munich
St Veronica's veil with the imprint of Christ's face on it was a favourite theme of medieval mysticism. According to the legend Veronica offered her kerchief to the sweating Christ, who was carrying His cross to Calvary. Profound devotion with a predilection for meditation picked out the figure of the holy woman holding up her kerchief from the animated scene on the way to Calvary.
In the present picture, from which the painter derived his name, Veronica herself is beyond the sorrow of the direct experience and though submerged in her thoughts she displays her kerchief with a graceful gesture. The little angels kneeling and squatting as they sing in the foreground regard the pensive face of Christ with an almost cheerful curiosity. The dark face, shown in rigid frontality, with a long straight nose and the severe symmetry of the solid mass of hair and the beard can be traced back to Byzantine icons, which, because they had been copied innumerable times, had been handed down from generation to generation in a relatively unchanged form.
In contrast to this face of hieratic frontality, St Veronica's face is somewhat tilted off the central axis, and the angels are animatedly turning their heads into all directions. These three different qualities are characteristic of the whole composition. The figures appear in three diverging dimensions. The tiny heads of the angels markedly intensify the monumentality of the face of Christ. Three planes, clearly separated from one another, are lined up in the picture: that of the angels, of the kerchief and of Veronica s figure. These three planes also reflect the three different levels of reality. The likeness of Christ is the most abstract, having no terrestrial connections whatsoever, not even the folds of the kerchief distort its features. Veronica's body is covered by the kerchief from her shoulders downwards, and as her feet cannot be seen either, she appears to be floating like a vision somewhere above the representation in perspective of the chequered floor. The angels are the most tangible figures, because, on the one hand, their whole bodies are visible and, on the other, because having invaded the bottom frame of the picture they have almost penetrated the viewer's space. The same graduality and an extraordinarily fine sense of rhythm are characteristic of the distribution of colours as well. The dark, almost monochrome face of Christ, out of which only the red of the blood is glowing, is framed by the cream-coloured kerchief. Veronica s pale face is surrounded by a blood-red hooded gown lined with dark green. Finally, the angels are depicted in various cheerful, vivid, light colours.