Images of the Veronica in Religious Books of the Laity: Their Provenance and Meaning

Hanneke Van Asperen



Manuscripts for lay devotion, often books of hours, sometimes contain small images of the Veronica that were added to the book after its production, probably by the book owner at the time. Attachment to the book did not always guarantee survival of the fragile pictures. Occasionally, the images are still in situ, but often they were removed after they had lost their meaning or after one of the following owner did not appreciate them anymore. When the Veronicas were removed, traces sometimes reveal their former presence.  With threads, the small pictures were attached to the parchment in the same way pilgrims’ badges were sometimes inserted. It is tempting then to regard all Veronicas, attached in books alongside pilgrims’ souvenirs, as mementoes from Rome, but the images in manuscripts invite a discussion on their provenance: Which Veronicas came from Rome? There are differences between the Veronica images in different books, but some show striking resemblances. Some will be from Rome, but not all of them.

Related questions focus on the practice of inserting images in books: When did it start and is there a development? Can the people who inserted the ‘Roman’ images be identified as the pilgrims who had brought the badges home? Was the function of the ‘Roman’ Veronicas different from the ones that did not come from Rome? In other words, what was the relevance of a Roman provenance for those who inserted them in books? Do the books, which provide context, offer further insight into the meaning of the Veronicas? Where did people insert them? Did they look for empty spaces in the book, or did they look at the text or miniatures for a suitable location? After showing different examples of small images of the Veronica images in religious books of the laity, I offer a hypothesis on their provenance and discuss the role of these small images in the devotional experiences of the laity.

The European Fortune of the Roman Veronica ​in the Middle Ages