Another interesting feature of The Three Marys at the Tomb painting is the apparent absence of the burial cloths – the shroud and the sudarium – associated with the Resurrection of Jesus from the tomb. In John’s gospel Simon Peter “saw the linen cloths on the ground, and also the cloth that had been over his head but rolled up in a place by itself” (20 : 6).
However, the artist, likely Hubert van Eyck, has referenced the cloths in an unusual way.
At one time the Shroud came into the possession of Geoffroi de Charney a renowned French knight who died fighting against English forces at the battle Poitiers fought on September 19, 1356. His son, also named Geoffroi, inherited the Shroud, and when he died in 1498 the cloth passed to his wife Marguerite de Charny.
In an article published by the British Society of the Turin Shroud, researcher Hugh Duncan explains that in 1418 the Shroud was moved for safe-keeping from Lirey to Saint-Hippolye-sur-le-Doubs, a small town on the French-Swiss border. The cloth was housed in the Buessard Chapel and each year taken out and put on display for visiting pilgrims in a nearby field which became known as “The Lord’s Field”.
The golden strip of land seen in the background detail of The Three Mary’s painting is a reference to the Shroud and “The Lord’s Field”. Notice also the group of pilgrims riding towards the field.
As for the sudarium, the cloth that had been rolled up to cover the head of Jesus in the tomb, the artist has shown this “in a place by itself” as a golden triangular shape alongside the ‘sudarium’ worn by the figure in blue representing the sorrowful Virgin Mary.
The Shroud and the triangular Sudaium are echoed in the January folio of the Très Riche Heures du Duc de Berry, the tablecloth being the Shroud and the folded napkin representing the Sudarium.
The meat dish is a double representation of both the heads of Christ and John the Baptist. Like “The Lord’s Field” the representation is set against a gold background.
The Baptist feature relates to another narrative also present in both paintings which I shall comment on in a future post.