Domenico Fetti was in Rome in 1606 when the Veil of Veronica, one of the oldest and most venerated relics in Christendom, was installed in the crossing of St. Peter's Basilica. According to medieval legend, the veil belonged to a woman who took pity on Christ as he toiled with his burden of the cross to Golgotha. She gave Christ her kerchief to wipe his brow, and when he returned the cloth, his image miraculously had been impressed upon it. This kerchief was believed to have been preserved as the relic called the "true image" or, in Latin, vera icon . In time, these words combined to form "Veronica," the name given by legend to the compassionate woman at Golgotha.
Fetti's depiction of the relic is compellingly realistic. Isolated against a dark background and draped over a bar, the fabric's texture, folds, and fringed border are rendered with painstaking care. Hovering on its surface is Christ's visage -- the flesh solidly modeled and tangible. Fetti's amazingly true image of the "true image" is, in a sense, a metaphor of the task of the painter. This is not merely a brilliant and self-conscious exhibition of the painter's skill, however, but a sensitive and deeply felt portrayal of Christ at the moment of his most intense physical and spiritual suffering.
Marks and Labels
Ferdinando Gonzaga, 6th duke of Mantua [1587-1626], by 1627; by inheritance to Ferdinando Carlo Gonzaga, 10th and last duke of Mantua [1650-1708], in Mantua 1706, and Venice 1709; Pierre Crozat [1665-1740], Paris, by 1728; by inheritance to his nephews, Louis-François Crozat, marquis du Châtel [1691-1750], Paris, and Joseph Antoine Crozat, baron de Tugny [1696-1751]; (Crozat collection sale, Paris, 15 June 1751, no. 119); Charles Cressent [1685-1768]. Possibly Adolphe Thiers [1797-1877], Paris. Arthur L. Nicholson, London; (Ehrich Gallery, New York), in 1925. (Paul Drey, New York); purchased 1943 by the Samuel H. Kress Foundation, New York; gift 1952 to NGA.
- Exhibition of Paintings by Velasquez and Murillo Never Before Shown in this Country, Ehrich Galleries, New York, 1925, as Attributed to Velasquez.
- 65th Church Congress Exhibition, Bournemouth, England, 1935, no known cat.
- Recent Additions to the Kress Collection, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1946, no. 797.
- The Age of the Marvelous, Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College, Hanover, New Hampshire; North Carolina Mus. of Art, Raleigh; Mus. of Fine Arts, Houston; High Mus. of Art, Atlanta, 1991-1992, no. 212, color pl. 15 (shown only in Hanover and Raleigh).
- Endres-Soltmann, Mary. "Domenico Fetti." Ph.D. dissertation, Ludwig-Maximillians-Universität, Munich, 1914: 63.
- Paintings and Sculpture from the Kress Collection. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1945 (reprinted 1947, 1949): 135, repro.
- Frankfurter, Alfred M. Supplement to the Kress Collection in the National Gallery. New York, 1946: 49, repro.
- Arslan, Edoardo. "Cinque disegni veneti." Arte Veneta 8 (1954): 291, n. 2.
- Michelini, Paola. "Domenico Fetti a Venezia." Arte Veneta 9 (1955): 129, n. 3.
- Paintings and Sculpture from the Samuel H. Kress Collection. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1959: 220, repro.
- Sterling, Charles. "Les peintres Jean et Jacques Blanchard." Art de France I (1961): 91.
- Perina, Chiara. "Pittura." In Mantova. Le Arti. 3 vols. Mantua, 1965: 3:462.
- Summary Catalogue of European Paintings and Sculpture. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1965: 49.
- Lehmann, Jürgen. "Domenico Fetti. Leben und Werk des römischen Malers." Ph.D. diss., Johann Wolfgang Goethe-Universität, Frankfurt am Main, 1967: 200, no. 56.
- European Paintings and Sculpture, Illustrations. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1968: 42, repro.
- Fredericksen, Burton B., and Federico Zeri. Census of Pre-Nineteenth Century Italian Paintings in North American Public Collections. Cambridge, Mass., 1972: 70.
- Shapley, Fern Rusk. Paintings from the Samuel H. Kress Collection: Italian Schools, XVI-XVIII Century. London, 1973: 67-68, fig. 124.
- European Paintings: An Illustrated Summary Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1975: 128, repro.
- Chastel, André. "La Véronique." La Revue de l'Art no. 40-41 (1978): fig. 15.
- Shapley, Fern Rusk. Catalogue of the Italian Paintings. 2 vols. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1979: I:180-181, II:pl. 125.
- Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington. Rev. ed. New York, 1984: 230, no. 295, color repro.
- European Paintings: An Illustrated Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1985: 152, repro.
- Wheeler, Marion, ed. His Face--Images of Christ in Art: Selections from the King James Version of the Bible. New York, 1988: 127, no. 86, color repro.
- Safarik, Eduard. Fetti. Milan, 1990: 31, 176, 241-243, repro., 294, 340.
- The Age of the Marvelous. Exh. cat. Hood Museum of Art, Hanover, New Hampshire; North Carolina Museum of Art, Raleigh, 1991-1992: 446, no. 212, pl. 15.
- National Gallery of Art, Washington. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1992: 107, repro.
- Eidelberg, Martin, and Eliot W. Rowlands, "The Dispersal of the Last Duke of Mantua's Paintings," Gazette des Beaux-Arts 6e période, 123 (1994): 217-218, 269, fig. 10.
- De Grazia, Diane, and Eric Garberson, with Edgar Peters Bowron, Peter M. Lukehart, and Mitchell Merling. Italian Paintings of the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries. The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue. Washington, D.C., 1996: 85-89, color repro. 87.
- Hand, John Oliver. National Gallery of Art: Master Paintings from the Collection. Washington and New York, 2004: 159, no. 120, color repro.
The support is a two-member panel, probably poplar, with a vertical join just left of center. The ground is a smooth white layer under a warm, pale red imprimatura that shows through in thinly painted areas. The paint was applied thinly and opaquely, often with a small feathered brushstroke. A larger brush was used for the drapery folds, but without creating impasto. Wood strips on all four sides were added in 1944 when the panel was marouflaged and cradled. The paint surface is abraded, especially in the shadows of the face and hair. Areas of discolored inpainting are visible here as well as in the shadows of the cloth folds and along the panel join. The varnish is discolored and the otherwise thick varnish is much thinner in the whites and flesh tones.
 Wood analysis was not carried out because the panel itself is completely hidden behind edge strips and a wooden backing attached prior to cradling. The apperance of the grain in x-radiographs, however, suggests an even-grained hardwook, possible poplar (populus sp.) or walnut (juglans regia).