Saint Veronica (oil on panel) Delaroche, Hippolyte (Paul) (1797-1856)
French art of the first half of the nineteenth-century pursued a generally rather traditional style. Typical of a tendency to look to the great masters of the Renaissance, painters like Hippolyte Delaroche combined fine draughtsmanship (considered the basis of excellence in painting) with a rather grand, narrative style. Paintings like the St Veronica interpreted this traditional scene from the life of Christ in a highly dramatic manner. The figure of St Veronica, is based on a legendary tale and is not found in the gospels. Her name offers a clue to the origins of this story. Veronica derives from the Latin vera icon in English ‘true icon.’ Thus Veronica is known as the woman who rushed forward with a cloth to wipe Christ’s face on the way to Calvary. Veronica’s spontaneous act of compassion was rewarded with the cloth which miraculously bore the image of Christ’s face. In the Middle Ages it was believed that this cloth was preserved in St Peter’s in Rome. In an age of pilgrimage the “veronica” as the cloth was known became the focus of great devotion. In Delaroche’s painting Veronica lies sprawled across the foreground of the painting. The miraculous cloth depicted in the upper right of the scene features the image of Christ – the object of the viewer’s veneration. However, because Veronica looks away from the cloth it is not clear what moment of the story is portrayed. Only a few details hint at the setting – the stone and exterior walls of a building behind the sprawling figure of Veronica, suggest an outdoor scene. The viewer is left to contemplate Veronica’s rather forlorn figure. Her pose evokes dejection even despair. Delaroche confronts the viewer with the aftermath of Veronica’s impetuous though kindly action. Her encounter with Christ provokes a profound spiritual transformation suggested by her state of collapse.
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