Did ancient Byzantine artists copy from the Shroud?
by VoxDoc of SingingVoice & turin-shroud.blogspot.com


Did the Shroud of Turin serve as an original model for many Byzantine icons? Throughout the first five centuries after the death of Christ, he was usually represented as youthful, beardless, and with short hair. The detail below of Christ Enthroned from the apse mosaic of San Vitale, Ravenna (c. 545) demonstrates this clearly.1

Christ Enthroned (c. 545). San Vitale, Ravenna.
Image courtesy of Early Christian and Byzantine Art.

During the late sixth century artists began representing Christ’s image in various media so that it had many uncanny similarities to the image on the Shroud of Turin. See the photographs of the face of the man in the Shroud and its negative image below.

Shroud FaceShroud Face Neg
Positive and Negative facial images of the Shroud of Turin.
Images © 1978, Barrie M. Schwortz. Courtesy of The Shroud of Turin Website.

French scholar Paul Vignon, was one of the first to notice these similarities and catalogued at least 15 distinct markings that many of the icons have in common with the Shroud image. Three of the most common markings are a topless square between the eyebrows, a “v” shape at the bridge of the nose, and two wisps of hair.2 Dating from c. 590 is one of the earliest and most beautiful icons, the Christ Pantocrator, pictured below. It is painted in encaustic, an early technique involving beeswax.

Sin Sal
Christ Pantocrator (c. 590). Monastery of St. Catherine, Mt. Sinai.
Image courtesy of Byzantine Icons.

Using a Polarized Image Overlay Technique that they developed Whanger and Whanger (1998:20) discovered 170 points of congruence between the St. Catherine’s Pantocrator icon and the Shroud face. In a court of law the forensic standard for fingerprints is 14 points of congruence, for faces 45-60.

During the first reign of the Byzantine emperor Justinian II (685-695), the first known coinage to feature Christ’s portrait appeared. The gold solidus below dates from c. 690.

Gold solidus (c. 690).
Image courtesy of The Catholic Counter-Reformation in the XXth Century, (May 2000).

The Whangers (1998:20) found 145 points of congruence between the Justinian solidus and the Shroud face. This evidence strongly suggests the Shroud as the model for both the Pantocrator icon and the Justinian solidus.3

Three of the most famous icons exhibiting several of the Vignon markings can be seen in the following examples. The first is the Christ Pantocrator mosaic (c. 1050-1100) from the dome of the Church at Daphni, near Athens. Notable are the “v” shaped triangle at the bridge of the nose, and a stylized version of the topless square.4

(Left) Christ Pancrator (c. 1050-1100), Daphni. Image courtesy of Dr. Allen Farber, Art Dept., State University of New York College at Oneonta.
The Christ Pantocrator, (c. 1148) from the mosaic in the apse of Cefalù Cathedral, Cefalù, Sicily can be seen in the second example below. It has exaggerated strands of hair and also the stylized “v” and topless square.

Christ Pantocrator (c. 1148), Cefalù. Image courtesy of Dr. Oleg Bychov, Theology Dept., St. Bonaventure University.

The final image is a detail from the mosaic of the Deesis from the south gallery of Hagia Sophia in Istanbul. Most of the markings are present, though the strands of hair are missing. This mosaic dates from ca. 1260-1280, around the earliest date given for the Shroud from the Carbon 14 dating.

Hagia Sophia
Detail of the Deesis (c. 1260-1280), Hagia Sophia. Image courtesy of Orthodox Ministry ACCESS Icon Gallery.

Armenian artist P. Ariel Agemian created this modern “icon” (shown below) in 1935 using the Shroud image as his model. This image is one of my favorites. For animations of the positive and negative images of the Shroud morphing into the Agemian portrait, see Holy Shroud Guild and Jesus Shroud Face websites.

Face of Christ (1935). P. Ariel Agemian. Scan of plate 36 from Kenneth E. Stevenson and Gary R. Habermas, Verdict on the Shroud (Wayne, PA: Dell/Banbury, 1981). Out of Print.

The image below is obviously a composite of the Agemian and the Shroud negative image. It was allegedly made in 1978 by NASA engineers. However, it has been claimed by some to be a miraculous manifestation by the Indian spiritual master Sai Baba. No further comment is really necessary.

Composite image of the Agemian and the Shroud face negative (1978).
Image courtesy of Visages du Christ.
1. An even earlier example, Christ the Good Shepherd, ca. 430 from the Mausoleum of Gallia Placidia can be seen at Images from World History.
2. Other Vignon markings include: (1) a transverse streak across the forehead, (2) a raised right eyebrow, (3) large, accentuated eyes, (4) accentuated cheeks, (5) an enlarged left nostril, (6) a line between the nose and upper lip, (7) a heavy line under the lower lip, (8) a hairless area between the lower lip and beard, (9) a forked beard, and (10) the left sidelock of hair is longer than the right. See Wilson (1998:Plate 39b).
3. For more on the Whanger’s research, see the Council for Study of the Shroud of Turin. It contains Quicktime and AVI movies for fascinating image comparisons. To view an interactive java applet with an image overlay and image density averaging of the Pantocrator icon and the Shroud face, see The Shroud of Turin Story – Java applets showing image comparisons.
4. For another image of this icon see also The Shroud of Turin Story: The Daphni Pantocrator.