Turin’s Cathedral will be making the image of its Holy Shroud available through televison and social media channels on Holy Saturday (April 9).
The announcement by Vatican News reminded me of Jan van Eyck’s special interest in the Shroud and also the face cloth, known as the Sudarium, left in the cave after Jesus rose from the dead.
A sudarium is a sweat cloth but was also used as a cloth to seal an annointing with oil, especially when administering the last rites.
The Flemish artist Rogier van der Weyden showed this in his famous Seven Sacraments painting. The dying man depicted is Jan van Eyck, and van der Weyden has compared Jan’s suffering in death to the that of the crucified Christ – as being on the cross.
But there is another reason why Van der Weyden has shown Van Eyck’s head covered in a sweat cloth. It’s a pointer to a painting produced by Jan early in his career for the illuminated manuscript now known as the Turin-Milan Hours. Several of the miniatures are dated to around 1420 and attributed to an artist referred to as “Hand G”, believed by art historians to be Jan van Eyck.
The particular minature that relates not only to the Sudarium but also to Christ’s cross, therefore matching the connection made by Van der Weyden, is titled the Finding of the True Cross. It depicts the story of Helena, mother of Constantine the Great, discovering the wood of Christ’s cross during a pilgrimage she made to the Holy Land in the 4th century.
Three workmen are shown uncovering the buried relic, one of whom is Jan van Eyck who is wearing a sweat cloth.
As to the man on his right, could it be Jan’s brother Hubert van Eyck?