Philip the Good and the Face of Christ

Kathryn Rudy

(University of St Andrews and Getty Research Institute)

In the fifteenth century the Face of Christ found an enthusiastic devotee at the Burgundian court. Philip the Good (1396-1467) owned his grandfather’s immense prayerbook, known as the Grandes Heures. His grandfather, Philip the Bold (1342-1404), had used the manuscript heavily. All of the inherited signs of wear may have encouraged the younger Philip to treat it as a living, physical, functional manuscript rather than as some showpiece. As Anne van Buren has shown, Philip the Good had the book dismantled and had texts and images added to it before having it rebound in two volumes (Cambridge, Fitzwilliam Museum; and Brussels, Royal Library). Among the items he added to the book were at least 6 parchment sheets that each depicted the Face of Christ. Each of these has a different size, style and provenance.  What’s clear is that 1) Philip the Good added these images successively over time, which reveals his sustained interest in this theme; and 2) he venerated them in a particularly physical way by handling them and touching their surfaces to the point where the images are severely darkened with use.

This paper has a twofold aim. First, I will contextualise Philip’s interest in this iconography by considering his other book commissions, including the large grisaille Prayerbook of Philip the Good (Hague, Royal Library). Secondly, I speculate on how and why he treated these images of the Face of Christi in such a physical manner. To do this, I will investigate Philip’s broader patterns of devotional performance and consider his behaviour against cultural norms of the fifteenth century. Grounding my study in the ideas of Marcel Mauss (‘Techniques of the body’), I aim to show how Philip set behavioural trends in the rugged handling of images of the Face of Christ.

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