In front of a dense forest, St Veronica is depicted with a veil and nimbus holding out a cloth bearing a perfectly symmetrical image of Christ’s bleeding face based on the iconography of the Greek philosopher or teacher and the description of Jesus said to have appeared in a letter sent to the Roman senate by Publius Lentulus, Pontius Pilate’s predecessor, which described his dark, wine-coloured, shoulder-length hair parted in the middle, and his thick beard the same colour as his hair and also parted in the middle.
In the West, the veneration of the holy veil was based mainly on the sacred sudarium of Veronica (Volto santo in Italian), a relic housed from the 12th century or earlier in St Peter’s Basilica in Rome and which disappeared in 1527 during the sack of Rome. The addition of the legendary figure of St Veronica holding the relic enabled the holy object and the legend to be viewed in a single image, thereby proving the origin and age of the relic. The saint’s gesture, holding the cloth up with outstretched hands for all to see like the prelates of Rome, encouraged veneration. This version featuring an image inside an image was like a reliquary, distinguishing between the object of worship and its presentation or support.