According to the legend of Saint Veronica, when Jesus was on the road to Calvary to be crucified she offered to wipe the sweat and blood from his face with her veil. Afterward, the features of his face were miraculously imprinted on the cloth. Though there is no biblical account of this event, the subject may have found its root in the story told in the gospel of Luke (8:43-48) of a woman who is healed by touching the garment of Jesus. She was identified as Veronica in one of the apocryphal gospels, though the episode is not part of the Passion.
El Greco treated the subject of Saint Veronica a number of times throughout his career, depicting it in two different ways: that of the figure of the saint holding her veil on which appears the imprinted visage of Christ, such as the present work, and that of the Holy Face, depicting only the holy cloth (sudarium) with Christ’s image. Of the type with Veronica holding her veil, the earliest example is the signed work, which dates from circa 1577-1578, formerly in the collection of Maria Luisa Caturla, Madrid (see Literature, Wethey cat. no. 282). Another of this format, dated slightly later to circa 1580, is in the Museo de Santa Cruz, Toledo (fig. 1). In both the ex Caturla and Toledo versions, the figure of Veronica looks off to her left and is mostly hidden behind the outstretched veil. The imprinted face of Christ wears the crown of thorns and is framed with a dark outline around the edges of the cloth. In the present depiction, the torso of Veronica is fully visible. She stares out of the picture plane, engaging the viewers directly and inviting them to contemplate the miracle of her veil and, thereby, the sanctity of Christ. Another Veronica Holding the Veil, in the Alte Pinakothek, Munich, and considered to be from the Workshop of El Greco, follows more closely the composition of the present Veronica. Veronica's pose in the present painting, with head tilted slightly to her left, and the treatment of her garments are very similar to those of the Virgin Mary in the Holy Family with Saint Mary Magdalen, of circa 1590-95, in the Cleveland Museum of Art (fig. 2).
Throughout the 20th century, this Veronica has been much published in El Greco literature though, due to it's inaccessibility, was never seen firsthand by most of the scholars who were judging its authorship. Among those scholars who rejected the picture were August Mayer (1926), Halldor Soehner (1957) and Harold Wethey (1962). None had seen the painting and Mayer confused it with the workshop version in Munich, after having first published (1911) the Veronica in the Casado collection as a late work by the artist (however there is no size given or reproduction so it is not clear which version he is referring to). Scholars who accepted the painting as a work by the hand of El Greco include Manuel Cossio (1908), José Camon Aznar (1950 & 1970)1 and Jose Gudiol (1973). Only Gudiol saw the painting firsthand, in Paris in 1973, and published it as an admirable work by El Greco datable to 1608-1614.2 He particularly praised the face and hands.
Following El Greco’s death, two inventories of his possessions were drawn up by his son Jorge Manuel Theotócopuli (1578-1631), the first dated 1614 and the second dated 1621. Jorge Manuel, a painter and architect, was active in his father’s workshop and continued to head it after his father’s death. Two paintings of Saint Veronica are listed in the 1614 inventory : “una Veronica” and "Una Veronica con Angeles por acabar," both without measurements. The second inventory also lists two Veronicas: no. 96, “una Veronica,” 1 by ¾ varas (approximately 84 by 63 cm.); and no. 169, “Una muger Veronica,” 1 by 1 ¼ varas (approximately 81 by 104 cm.)(3). San Roman (see Literature) identified no. 96 as the painting in Buenos Aires, while Wethey and, more recently, Ruiz (see Literature) have speculated that no. 169 in the second inventory is probably identifiable as the Buenos Aires picture. This painting has a later addition along the top measuring 1 3/4 in. Excluding this addition, the measurements in centimeters are 103 by 81, only off by one centimeter in height from the painting listed in the second inventory and making a strong case that the present Saint Veronica is identifiable with that painting.
1. In his 1950 edition, Aznar conflated provenance of the Casado/Bonifacio del Carril version with the Munich painting, listing the Casado ownership for both paintings. In a letter to Sr. Bonifacio del Carril dated 26 December 1959, he apologizes for the error and states his belief that his version of Veronica is his cat. no. 140 which he considers to be authentic.
2. Copy of letter dated 18 October 1973.
3. See Wethey, under Literature, p. 148.
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