This post is part of a multi-part series investigating the evidence and arguments surrounding the Shroud of Turin. See the first post, Shoud of Turin, Could it Be Real?, for an index.
Per Wikipedia, “Iconography is the branch of art history that studies the identification, description, and interpretation of the content of images…” When it comes to the Shroud of Turin, iconography is another important domain for both advocates and skeptics. From the skeptics camp, Steven Schafersman has created an overview presentation that summarizes quite a few oppositions. We should review it if for no other reason than to drive investigative questions to answer the concerns with a topic.
Another important researcher that stands out in the iconography of the Shroud is Emanuela Marinelli. In her 2014 paper entitled “The Shroud and the iconography of Christ“, Marinelli stated “The similarity between the Shroud face and most of the depictions of Christ known in art, both Eastern and Western, is clear and cannot be attributed to pure chance; it must be the result of a dependency, mediated or immediate, of an image from the other and of all from a common source.” Emanuela also describes why there is good reason for the Shroud to have been hidden early on attempting to answer why it wasn’t known about until the mid 1300’s.
To better understand the domain of iconography, we should first review some basics about relics, icons, and symbolism. We’ll turn to Wikipedia again for some definitions. A relic “usually consists of the physical remains of a saint or the personal effects of the saint or venerated person preserved for purposes of veneration as a tangible memorial” – something left behind by them for us to pick up, touch, or view. An icon in this context, is generally “a painting, casting in metal, carving in stone, mosaic, painting on wood, etc,” that has some religious meaning to viewers. Religious symbolism is “the use of symbols, including archetypes, acts, artwork, events, or natural phenomena, by a religion.”
Iconongraphy offers more information about the history of the Shroud than the documented historical record itself. An entire area of research is dedicated to the Shroud, with researchers such as Emanuela Marinelli and Nicholas Allen both have contributed much of their life to the field. Art Historian Nicholas Allen posed a radical theory about the image on the Shroud of Turin; he believes it was the world’s first photograph, taken 500 years before the known invention of photography.
What this field suggests:
Uncanny similarities exist between the Shroud image and early Christian icons. The assertions of those that study this field pose convincing arguments that the Shroud was the model upon which Byzantine icons were based beginning in the 6th Century.
Author Ian Wilson has stated that “the peculiarities and points of congruence are so distinctive and prevalent that it is in their opinion doubtful they could be mere imagination or coincidence.”
The study of iconography looks at how the Shroud image, rediscovered in Edessa in 525 AD was the progenitor of all the images of Christ that followed. Some of the common characteristics between the Shroud and many icon images are: the large hollow eyes, forked beard, a sprock of hair in the middle of forehead, a flattened nose, raised cheeks from bruising, and most pronounced is a double line across the neck which corresponds with a fold line on the Shroud. Not all Icons have all the same characteristics but the pattern is striking.
Iconography is just one area of research that suggests a problem with the 1988 carbon dating, covered in a later posting. Ian Wilson’s book, Holy Faces Secret Places is a resource of in depth study of this field.