Wednesday, 14 October 2015

The Shroud Of Christ By Paul Vignon D.Sc (Fr) Part 28.

To complete the artistic tradition which has inspired the author of the Amiens head we must compare it with other statues of a like place and period. Let us take the figure of Christ, which stands over the central entrance of Bourges Cathedral (fig. 20), not the ancient figure on the tympanum, but the more spirited and so to speak elegant one which stands on the pillar separating the two doors. This also is a "Christ teaching," but it is only an inferior copy of the " Beau Dieu " ; the drapery is treated in the same way, only it is a little less natural and happy in general execution. The head has not the same beauty, it is more emaciated, and perhaps not quite anatomically correct ; but the main features of detail—the eyebrows, the eyes, the nose—are the same. The mouth is of the Amiens type, but grosser and more common. The hair and beard are alike in both examples ; specially we may notice the moustaches, which, somewhat thin and drooping, curve inwards not very gracefully. The thick curls of the beard in both statues take exactly the same somewhat heavy and formal contours.

Look now upon the Divine face in the Holy Shroud ; it is nature itself.

In this short sketch of the different representations of Christ, dating about the thirteenth century, we have only alluded to the head, because in all the statues and pictures mentioned the body is covered with drapery. It seems clear that no artist of that date has produced anything that can compare in natural truth of form and beauty with the image on the Shroud of Turin.

If, then, the Christ of the Holy Shroud is found to be so incomparably superior to the representations of the thirteenth century, it compares even more favourably with those of the century following—works which are often beautiful but unequal in execution, and often attain only to mediocrity in artistic ideal. It is sufficient to refer to a few of the best known examples ; for instance, the statue of an apostle belonging formerly to the ancient Church of St. Jacques, but now preserved in the Cluny collection (fig. 21). We reproduce this merely in contrast to the severe religious austerity which characterized the work of the previous century, and to show the kind of art which was produced in the north of France at the time that the Charny family founded the Abbey of Lirey. The art of the fourteenth century was weaker, languid, and more affected.

Sometimes it descended even to vulgar ugliness. At Notre Dame de Paris, for instance, in the choir screen there are scenes from the life of Christ, sculptured and painted ; those on the right can be well seen in the afternoon light. We give here as an example of this work the figure of Christ when He was mistaken by Mary Magdalen for the gardener (fig. 22). This series of scenes may well be considered as the work of the best artists of the period, and they are curious and interesting as studies, but altogether wanting in depth of thought or nobility of design. It is not that the artist has made the figure of Christ vulgar only by placing a spade in its hand ; it is by the want of proportion in the head, which is too big for the body, by the shortness of the commonplace nose, the heavy brows, the obstinate expression, all conveying poverty of detail, a characteristic indeed which pervades the whole work.

Further examples of the decadence of the period are not
wanting. Let us take the group (here reproduced) where St. Thomas touches the wound in the Saviour's side (fig. 23). The original is to be found in the Cathedral of Semur in the ancient province of Burgundy. It may be urged that the level of art in so remote a locality could not be expected to rise to the height of the capital; but, on the other hand, was the town of Troyes, near which the abbey of Lirey was found, any less provincial than Semur ? The man who chiselled the head of St. Thomas was no novice ; but can the name of artist be given to him who conceived in his mind the type here given of the Christ ?