Many ancient paintings in water-colour are well known. Only last year a number of persons met at the Guimet Museum to see the curios found by M. Gazet in the Greco-Egyptian tombs of Upper Egypt. I particularly recall the full-length portrait of a certain Thais. The regular features of the painted face, the black eyes elongated by henna. The elegance of her ornaments contrasted strangely with the miserable remains of her mummy, placed close by. One Serapion, with his body bound round with heavy iron rings, was a still more lugubrious figure. The painted cloth was almost completely rigid, and the paint had worn off at the creases. Paint, and paint alone, had made the cloth stiff; without the paint it would have been an ordinary limp wrapping-cloth.
The Holy Shroud is a very supple cloth, like our modern linen. Since it is still perfectly flexible in all its parts, and since the figures on it have not disappeared, we may affirm that there is on it no painting executed in any of the above media.
If questioned as to how we are able to assert that the Holy Shroud is supple (apart from the testimony of those who handled it), we refer again to the photographs of M. Pia.
We have only to look at these photographs to see that the cloth, although backed and strengthened with silk, has remained slightly creased. The inequalities formed by the creases have made many slight differences in the tones of the photograph, showing that the material is very supple and is kept stretched with difficulty. One of these creases cuts the head a little above the forehead ; another just below the chin. There are many others, which will at once be noticed. They appear as black lines in Plate iv., because they throw a shadow on the Shroud, and inversely they are white in Plate v. The fineness of the lines shows the thinness of the material.
But we may learn more than this from these photographs.
The Holy Shroud is now kept rolled up in a casket; folds are avoided as far as possible, the cloth being so old and easily worn in the creases.
But formerly no such precautions were taken. The burnt places and water-stains show how the cloth was folded at the time of the fire in 1532—just as any ordinary cloth might be folded, lengthways, right down the middle. This crease passed almost down the centre of the face. Had any paint been on the Holy Shroud, the form of the face must have been completely destroyed.
What we have already said should satisfy the most exacting critic. Nevertheless we wished to make other experiments on cloths similar to that of the Holy Shroud, experiments suggested by our examination of the photographs.
For this purpose we consulted M. Gazet, the distinguished author of Les Fouilles du Faijum, and M. Terme, the learned Director of the textile museum at Lyons. These gentlemen were extremely interested by the photographs of the Holy Shroud, and placed at our disposal a series of ancient Egyptian cloths collected in the tombs of Faijum. With these cloths we have established a scale of thickness, so that we have been able to ascertain which materials when stretched bore the closest resemblance to the Holy Shroud as represented in the photographs. We have thus determined a sort of standard which should very nearly represent the quality of the Shroud at Turin.
This material is so fine that it is almost linen muslin.
Satisfied on this point, we had a water-colour painting made on very soft and fine material, mixing white lead with the gum. Such a medium only adheres to the material when it is applied in the form of a very thin wash with a very small quantity of white lead. But no representation of a body could be obtained with so liquid a mixture. It was necessary to paint over this first wash in light and dark tones. A picture was thus obtained, very thin in substance but very fragile. The paint came off at the least touch as soon as the cloth was folded.
This is not all. There are doubtless to-day very few people who have been permitted to hold the Holy Shroud in their hands. We have been fortunate enough to secure the testimony of one of these privileged persons, who accompanied Princess Clotilde when it was shown to the public in 1868. This precious witness, who really handled the Shroud, certified that the cloth was unusually and strikingly supple. We have now a perfect right to conclude that the impressions cannot be pictures executed in water-colour or in oils.