La Sainte Face [The Holy Face]
43.8 cm x 32 cm (17 1/4 in. x 12 5/8 in.)
(Abbeville, France, 1598 - 1688, Paris)
Medium and Support:
Blanton Museum of Art, The University of Texas at Austin, The Leo Steinberg Collection, 2002
The Sudarium was the cloth with which the Magdalene wiped perspiration from Christ’s face on the road to Calvary. It is believed by the faithful to have miraculously retained the image of Christ’s face. Mellan’s engraving is illusionistic, almost trompe l’oeuil, in its format, but highly intellectual, practically abstract, in its execution. The image is in fact generated by a single line that starts at the tip of Christ’s nose and moves in concentric circles out to the edge of the plate. Every feature, every tone, is produced by shifts in the weight and inflection of this line. The engraving has always been admired as one of the great technical feats. The symbolic implications of Mellan’s line –– the miraculous existence of the image, the singular nature of the Trinity –– are, however, equally significant.