The Holy Face; Bernard BUFFET; 1953; printed intaglio work; Tate Collection, London

Tate Collections

The Holy face

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A face on a white cloth; the latter is hanging above the void or rather held by the hands of a young woman who cannot be seen here. She is Veronica holding the veil of Christ’s Holy Face.

The face is that of Jesus; his picture deposited itself, in the manner of a print, on the linen with which Veronica wiped off his sweat when he was suffering along the way of the cross.

The Holy Face is normally included in the Way of the Cross but it can also be inserted in the Crucifixion or become its own subject. (See Crosses).




According to the period, one can see either a serene face or a tortured face with the crown of thorns, the marks of blows, the beads of blood but the face always remains beautiful.

 The maiden is dressed like the other women present on the way to Calvary but she has a strange name: Veronica is simply the Latin phrase “vero-icona” which means “true picture”. This name does not exist in the texts of the Bible: the woman is legendary and is simply the personification of the object she carries.

The biblical narrative

This scene has no evangelical basis.

 It is an apocryphal book “the death of Pilate” that tells that Christ printed his face on a cloth that he gave to Veronica. This name does not exist in the biblical texts, the woman is legendary and is simply the personification of the object she carries since “vero icona” means “true picture”.


Isaiah’s suffering servant has been recognized by Christians as the prophetic image of Christ.

The Book of Isaiah, chapter 53

For he shall grow up before him as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground: he has no form or comeliness; and when we see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him.

He is despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid, as it were, our faces from him; he was despised, and we did not esteem him.
(Isaiah 53:2-3)


See similar pictures


Veronica receives the picture of Christ during the ascent to Calvary; the arrangement corresponds to the apocryphal texts. Bassano does not show the face of Christ on the cloth but Veronica holds it like a mirror in which it is reflected.


The Way of the Cross and St Veronica with the Shroud; the Master of James IV of Scotland; 1510-20; Flemish miniature; J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles.

Paul Getty trust



The Way to Calvary; Jacopo BASSANO; 1540; oil on canvas; National Gallery, London.

Web Gallery of Art


The scene is isolated from its context of the Passion. Veronica holds the veil like a relic.


St Veronica with the shroud; El GRECO; c. ; oil on canvas; Santa Cruz Museum, Toledo, Spain.

CGFA - A Virtual Art Museum



St Veronica; Hans MEMLING; c. 1470-75; oil on panel; National Gallery of Art, Washington.

 National Gallery Washington


Veronica disappears; the veil is isolated and becomes an icon

and it becomes a model for the apostle's face by Nolde.


The Veil of Veronica; Domenico FETI; c; 1618-22; oil on panel; National Gallery of Art, Washington.

 National Gallery Washington



An Apostle Filled with the Holy Spirit; Emil NOLDE; 1909 watercolour; National Gallery of Art, Washington.

 National Gallery Washington



Further developpements

The face of Christ

In the Middle-Ages, there existed a relic that claimed to be the veil of Veronica but it was destroyed in the sacking of Rome in 1525. Other relics still exist but all are posterior to the 1st century and there is no testimony about Jesus’ face; the Gospels are silent in this matter.

Christianity was born as a religion of the Word and used pictures only later. But as early as the representations in the catacombs, two faces of Christ appeared:

a juvenile and beardless Jesus that can be related to the Greek models of Orpheus, Hermes or Apollo,

a bearded long-haired Jesus that can be considered more oriental but also corresponds to the model of antique philosophers.


The beardless Christ still exists in some miniatures of the 10th century but it is the oriental model that triumphs everywhere, with a beard that grows longer and is divided; which makes the face more majestic.




Christ-Orpheus; 3rd century fresco; catacomb of Domitilla, Rome.



Le Beau Dieu; Amiens cathedral, France.



Salvator Mundi; CORREGGIO; c. 1515; oil on canvas; National Gallery of Art, Washington



The "Beau Dieu” is a creation of Western Art in the 12th century; He is a teaching Christ, standing, dressed in a long gown and bearing the Gospel on his left while he blesses with his right hand.

Christ can also be recognised by a halo that is, in addition, marked with a cross; he is often placed in the centre of a sort of almond, or mandorla, which is also a mark of light.

The two Greek Letters Alpha and Omega are sometimes close to his face to indicate he is the beginning and the end of all things, as Alpha is the first letter of the Greek alphabet and Omega is the last one.

When he has a naked sword near his mouth and seven stars in his right hand, he corresponds to the vision in Revelation. This representation soon eliminated was taken up again in the 20th century by some artists.



Christ in Glory; 1200; illuminated parchment; British Museum, London.

Web Gallery of Art


The Christ of Revelation; Nicola PISANO; 1265; marble; Siena cathedral, Italy

Web Gallery of Art




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