Holy Face, ca. 1485
Gerard David (Netherlandish, ca. 1455–1523)
Tempera and gold leaf on parchment, trimmed and laid down on wood; 3 1/2 x 2 1/8 in. (9 x 5.4 cm)
Robert Lehman Collection, 1975 (1975.1.2486)
This poignant, diminutive image presents a portrait of Christ in all his humanity. It derives from a group of images thought to have been created miraculously. The Holy Face is said to have been imprinted upon Veronica's veil when she wiped the sweat from Christ's face as he carried the cross to Golgotha. Veronica, whose name means "true image," or vera icon, was a particularly popular subject in fifteenth-century devotional imagery. This Holy Face was originally one of the many illuminations accompanying a text in a book of hours. It is possible that the miniature was excised from a book of hours (Escorial, Spain) dated 1486 that contains illuminations by several artists, including some by David. If, indeed, the miniature is from the hand of David, we have evidence that the artist was active as both a panel painter and a manuscript illuminator.