Is the Shroud of Turin a Painting?

by
Isabel Piczek
Copyright 1995 All Rights Reserved
Reprinted by permission.

Click on the thumbnails to see larger views of each image:

FIG. A
"The Final Beginning of Man"
2000 sq. ft. acrylic mural on stucco by Isabel Piczek
Guardian Angel Cathedral, Las Vegas, Nevada

FIG. B
"The Final Beginning of Man" Detail
The artist, in the center on the scaffold, with a reporter from the Las Vegas Sun (right).
Guardian Angel Cathedral, Las Vegas, Nevada

FIG. C
"The Electromagnetic Phenomenon"
Acrylic on linen with gesso. 3' x 2'
By Isabel Piczek
Four Grand Awards

FIG. D
"The People of the World"
(The Mid-Eastern Woman with Japanese Girl)
Detail of 310 sq. ft. acrylic mural on stucco by Isabel Piczek
St. Anne's Maternity Home, Los Angeles, California

WHAT IS A PAINTING:

It is an object directly experienced by the human eye through natural visibility (not by a microscope). It is a surface to which an artist consciously applied paint, transforming simple matter to project intellectual information of a selected kind.

The elements creating a painting then are:

The material zone: a laminated structure

The zone between matter and intellect: the techniques related to the materials, linear perspective and light focus, art anatomy and foreshortening, the process of painting, handedness, the limits of art, decay of the techniques.

The intellectual zone: the milieu of the artist, art history, subject.

PAINTING, A LAMINATED STRUCTURE: (FIG. E.)

FIG. E
A Laminated Structure

SUPPORT:
The Shroud is linen. Raw, unprepared linen repels water, difficult to cover with paint. There is no such paint known to art which - applied to raw linen -- would give the optical effect we see on the Turin Shroud and no visible drag. Because of the watermarks on it, any water-soluble binders are totally excluded for technical reasons.

GROUND:
The aqueous mediums used before the thermoplastic mediums were introduced in the high renaissance, did not have the flexibility to apply them directly to unstretched canvas without a gesso ground. Medieval paintings were carefully prepared with a gesso ground and even then could not be folded or rolled without serious damage. We neither see a gesso ground underneath the Shroud image nor the typical damages which folding and rolling caused to aqueous paints.

PAINTS:
If we argue that the Shroud is a painting then, professionally, the paint mediums have to be discussed first, not the pigments. The painting, as a visible optical illusion, depends on the intricate interplay between mediums and paint particles. The mediums have to create a tight, continuous film. The visibility and therefore the integrity of a painting solely depends on how well this film remained intact. It does not depend on the individual paint particles. Any discontinuity in the medium film indicates a painting is severely damaged, with parts of it erratically missing. (FIG. F.)

FIG. F
Example of damaged painting:
1) Disintegrating colloidal egg emulsion causing flaking, typical cracking.
2) Unstretched pure linen canvas, no rigid backing.
3) Damage Caused by folding
Detail of painting by I. Piczek at age eleven.

FOR A CONTINUOUS IMAGE TO EXIST ON A PAINTING, WHILE THE PAINT MEDIUM HAS RETURNED TO DUST OR JUST TINY GLOMERATES, LEAVING THE MILIMICRON PIGMENT PARTICLES WITHOUT TIGHT ADHESION TO THE GROUND OR TO THE SUPPORT WOULD BE TOTALLY AGAINST THE LAWS OF NATURE, SCIENTIFICALLY INACCEPTABLE AND A TECHNICAL IMPOSSIBILITY REGARDING THE PRACTICE OF ART. This would be harder to explain than the Turin Shroud itself. (FIG. G.)

FIG. G
Example of highly damaged painting (Byzantine).
Cause: disintegrating colloidal medium.

THE TURIN SHROUD SHOWS A CONTINUOUS, UNINTERRUPTED, VISIBLE IMAGE. IT DOES NOT, HOWEVER, SHOW A CONTINUOUS, UNDAMAGED, VISIBLE MEDIUM FILM WHICH HAS TO BE PRESENT WITH A COHERENT IMAGE. IT IS THEREFORE MANDATORY TO STATE, THE PAINT PARTICLES FOUND ON ITS SURFACE AND THE POSSIBLE TINY GLOMERATES OF A PAINT MEDIUM ARE INDEPENDENT FROM THE IMAGE EXISTENT ON IT. IT THEREFORE IS NOT A PAINTING.

From the above statement derives that the medium films always are visible by the naked eye and they are always cohesive until there is a cohesive image. All mediums share this in uniformity. But otherwise the study of mediums is filled with complexities. Since they are mostly natural products they are highly variable mixtures. In many cases only the practicing artist with a vast experience will detect and understand some of their erratic behavior.

THE MEDIEVAL MEDIUMS. (FIG. H.)

FIG. H
The Thermoplastic and Convertible mediums.

Dr. McCrone considers the Turin Shroud to be a medieval painting. Hence, the mediums used in medieval art should be discussed here in particular. The convertible mediums were in use, the thermoplastic binders were not yet known. The convertible mediums show a colloidal structure and, unlike ordinary solutions, they cannot be completely dissolved in liquids, but tiny dry pigment particles remain dispersed in a suspended equilibrium. Most of these aqueous mediums are emulsions, and some of them are just colloidal solutions. An emulsion is a stable mixture of an aqueous liquid with an oily, fatty, waxy or resinous substance. The egg yolk medium film for instance is an emulsion, the egg white medium is not. They are highly visible. The hand-ground pigments, (which have larger particles and more intense color), used in the Middle Ages, have to be suspended in 15 - 50% more binding materials than today's machine ground pigments. The iron oxides are on the uppermost scale of this.

The convertible aqueous mediums remain in liquid form until they dry. Some remain water-soluble, others, like egg mediums, do not. The mediums which remain water-soluble after drying are the most vulnerable and are losing their binding power quicker than those which dry up non-soluble by water. One thing is certain, however, that the bond in the convertible mediums with colloidal structures is only temporary and their affinity is unpredictable. When they lose their binding power, they pulverize and fall off. They expose the particles of pigments they held to the ground. They too return to their original dust form and do not adhere. The pigment particles left behind are not just any size. As stated also by Ralph Mayer, paint chemist par excellence, in order that true colloidal characteristics would be exhibited, at least in one dimension the particle must measure not more than 200 milimicrons and not less than 5 milimicrons. Thus the colloidal realm stretches between the smallest particle visible through an ordinary microscope and the largest molecules. Anything seen outside of this realm does not indicate the remnant of a medieval painting technique.

DECAY: (FIG. F & G)

An inconsistent paint film causes serious damages in a painting, with a patchy, flaky or entirely destroyed look of its image. Each paint medium necessitates a different technique, which are clearly distinguishable from each other. The professional artist can also recognize the typical decay of the different paint mediums and the damaged look this causes to the techniques. We do not see any of them on the Shroud of Turin.

The Shroud was folded and refolded, rolled, exhibited, carried, exposed to sun and handled. All medieval convertible mediums require the use of a rigid support to paint on. The Shroud is not a rigid painting support. If a convertible paint medium would have been used on it would have long ago lost its binding power, and medium and pigment would have fallen off as dust, destroying the image entirely. Whatever dust of either materials would have remained on its surface would have to be dispersed all over the cloth and would not have accumulated logically in the image areas. This excludes that the red color, marking the wounds, is vermilion.

Vermilion:
Vermilion is mercuric sulfide. Because it repels water it does not mix well with the medieval aqueous mediums. It is erratically permanent and highly unstable. It turns black exposed to light, air and through chemical reactions with other pigments and materials, when suspended in convertible mediums. It also turns black due to heat and fire such as the 1532 fire in the Chambery Chapel. Because of these known, highly unstable qualities, artists did not use vermilion on paintings to be exposed to the elements or on walls. It would have turned black in any case by now, but not likely that it would have been used in the first place, unless on less important copies of the Shroud.

Glue Medium:
Dr. McCrone mentioned tiny remnants of an animal collagen -- part of a glue paint medium -- he found on the Shroud.

Let us see if this suggestion holds up against professional experience.

Animal glue made in the Middle Ages from kid, rabbit, or sheep skin or goat, sheep and fish bone, has very unpleasant properties as a paint medium. Hence the lack of its use in fine art. It has very little stability as an uninterrupted paint film and continuously absorbs and discharges moisture from the atmosphere. This causes scaling of the paint film, which remains totally water-soluble and lacks permanence.

As for techniques, a painting done with glue, as medium, would be flat and decorative. Good examples for this are the Egyptian wall paintings, preserved only inside of undisturbed tombs in a very dry climate, the inexpensive Kodex illustrations (the good ones were done with gum arabic) and some decorative items, such as shields. This technique cannot be used for realistic figurative art, as the image on the Shroud.

Because of the lack of permanence certain chemical additives are always used with animal glues, such as formaldehyde, or inorganic salts, zinc chloride or magnesium silicofluoride. These were not found on the Shroud.

Watercolor paints:
Pure watercolors cannot be used with any success on an unprepared linen. The linen would repel the water badly even with the chemical additives which watercolors have to have and which were not found on the Shroud. Their mechanical adhesion would be almost as bad as that of a "dust painting", so called the pastel-like use of oxide dry pigments by non-professionals. Pastels are stabilized by formaldehyde, they have to be executed on surfaces kept rigid and protected by glass.

GLUE PAINTINGS, WATERCOLOR PAINTINGS, PASTELS ARE DESTROYED BY WATER (the water used, for example, in the fire of 1532 in the Chambery Chapel) AND ARE SERIOUSLY AND TYPICALLY DAMAGED BY FOLDING, ROLLING, HANDLING AND TIME. We see none of these on the Shroud.

Taking all the above described qualities, chemistry and build up of the colloidal convertible mediums and the submicron pigment particles found on the Shroud, actually one could not find a better proof than these for the total independence of the Shroud image from these. They lend to us the strongest support that the Shroud is not a painting.

WHERE DID THE PIGMENT PARTICLES COME FROM?

What explanation can we find for the occasional milimicron size paint pigment particles and tiny medium glomerates (if any) on the Turin Shroud?

From the excellent studies of Don Luigi Fossati, S.D.B. of Turin, we know that the Shroud image, -- through the centuries -- was copied many times by painters. Fifty-two (52) of these are known. These copies, according to the finds of Fossati, were laid down on the Shroud for "authentication" of the copy. Mr. Paul Maloney, a professional research archeologist living in the USA has suggested that particles of paint were passed from the surfaces of these "true copies" onto the Surface of the Shroud, when they were stretched over it and laid down on it.

EXPERIMENTAL PROOF

It took a professional artist, such as myself, to prove that this suggestion was absolutely true. 3"x3" test pieces were used made of home spun Belgian linen. These test pieces were painted with art historic techniques used in early Christian, Byzantine and medieval times, also some renaissance and baroque techniques. The paints used were a yellow oxide, a calcined iron oxide, and vermilion. The painted samples, after the paints dried well on them, were touched to clean samples and these clean samples were photomicrographed. (FIGS. Q, R, S) The tests proved with great precision what Don Fossati and Mr. Maloney suggested. Particles of paint indeed were passed from the painted samples onto the clean surfaces, thus lending to us a reasonable proof that the painted "true copies" of the Shroud are most likely responsible for the paint particles on the Shroud. The aqueous colloidal mediums shed their paint particles much more generously than the thermoplastic mediums of an origin later than the Middle Ages. As it was expected, the vermilion showed very poor attachment to the raw linen and readily fall of with even the slightest agitation of the linen. The oxides did better, shed smaller particles but typically within the required colloidal range. The test even proved that they were the early copies painted in Byzantine and medieval times, which deposited most of the paint particles.

FIG. Q
Vermillion

FIG. R
Iron Oxide

FIG. S
Iron Oxide

These results were presented at the International Shroud Symposium in Rome in 1993.

THE ZONE BETWEEN MATTER AND INTELLECT

The Shroud image does not have any style and for that reason it does not fit into any period of art history. While here I do not wish to discuss art history and its aspects, because the richness and complexity of that subject would take up many pages, I must say, however, there is no such painting which would not fit with absolute precision into a particular era of art history and point out with reasonable closeness the artist who created the painting.

There is no directionality and no lights focus on the Shroud, neither are outlines in any way. These three elements exist on every painting without exception. These involve laws of nature. The lack of all these again proves the Turin Shroud cannot be a painting.

THE EXPERIMENTAL AND PRACTICED ARTS

As the independence of the milimicron pigment particles from the image proved against the painting theory, so does the very practice of art and art anatomy from another angle.

The trained artist can immediately see that the image on the Shroud is not created by light and shadow. Yet, as a complete paradox -- which no artist can create -- definite perspective and foreshortening exists both, on the frontal and the dorsal image, which seems to respect the laws of geometrical optics, the rules of image forming properties ordinarily relying on light.

Foreshortening means to place a body or object into the geometrical system of perspective related to a light focus, visually shortening its parts, yet maintaining the illusion of proper proportion. (FIG. I)

FIG. I
Foreshortening on Figures

Foreshortening, however, was not understood by artists until the 15th century. It was introduced through the work of Piero della Francesca (1418-1492) and Albrecht Durer (1471-1528). This is a bombshell put into the notion that the Shroud of Turin is a painting. In 1356, at the time of the first recorded exhibition of this object, artists did not have any knowledge of anatomical foreshortening, let alone the paradox of a focusless foreshortening. This latter, we, the artists of today, could not produce.

A new discipline has to enter into the research of the Turin Shroud, the rather tough discipline of art anatomy, which has to be an integral part of every realistic figurative representation. Here science has to bow in front of the vast experimental knowledge of the arts which alone can correctly determine the position of the body on the Shroud.

It is easily said in theory that the Shroud is a painting. But when this is exposed to the scrutiny of the practice of art, it is an eye-opener and a sobering revelation.

The image of the crucified man on the Shroud is not stylized, categorized and not simplified at all. It is a realistic anatomical study of a lifelike man. The artist cannot enlarge a smaller study made with a model to a life size scale and achieve what we see on the Shroud. The Shroud image shows details which can be further and further analyzed down to increasingly smaller areas and yet these details retain their lifelike integrity. The artist's smaller study enlarged to life-size shows a loss of details and becomes simplified and stylized. An absolutely realistic, life-size anatomical study of a nude body has to be done by using a life model directly.

Unfortunately, in practice this cannot be done in case of the Shroud. The exact position of the body on it can only be seen on a life model from above at a distance of cc. 15 feet.

The model has to be placed at floor level. A fifteen feet high ladder had to be placed between the head and the toes to simulate the perspective an artist would need for this project. The artist's position -- standing way above on the ladder -- has to be at a sharp angle in relation to the model's in order not to cover the full view. Even the slightest movement of the artist up or down, or right and left, would place the model visually into a different angle than the Shroud image. In this position, the reach of the artist's arm places an absolute limit on the size of the work he/she can create. That limit vertically is about 4 1/2 feet and horizontally about 2 1/2 feet. The artwork has to be worked out vertical. (FIG. J &K)

FIG. J
Experimental Art. Work with life model
for the true position of the body on the Shroud.

FIG. K
Experimental Art. Artist working with life model showing
the limitations of possible size of the artwork. Shroud studies.

Yet, this smaller work cannot be enlarged, as we have seen, to life-size to look like the Shroud image, because its details would be lost. Two life-size figures, front and back, on a 14 feet linen? It simply cannot be done in practice.

There are even greater difficulties with the dorsal image. Neither a living nor a dead person can be put into the exact position seen on the dorsal image, because he would have to rest merely on the tip of his nose, one hand and one knee. Besides it is totally excluded that the frontal and the dorsal images, done at two separate intervals, would match each other as they do on the Shroud.

When the question, "Is the Shroud a painting?" is probed by a professional artist on the experimental level, the painting theory is not tenable.

THE TRUE POSITION FOUND

The difficulties experienced by the artist trying to recreate the circumstances which would allow to paint a Shroud-like painting, lead, however, to a substantial discovery.

The untrained human eye does not note the differences created by anatomical foreshortening on the frontal and dorsal image of the Shroud. Foreshortening and the TRUE DISTANCES of body parts from the surface go hand in hand. While a general research opinion sees a flatly reclining body on the Shroud, the professional figurative artist with extensive training in art anatomy can see substantial differences to caution him/her to accept the flatly reclining position as true.

The foreshortenings describe very precise angles which the torso creates with the pelvis, the pelvis with the thighs and the thighs with the lower legs. The problem with all the time was that these angles could be easily calculated from a profile view, but the profile view is missing on the Shroud. Art anatomy, however, can restore that information. (FIG. L, M, N & O)

FIG. L
Life study by I. Piczek for Shroud research.
The incorrect, flatly reclining position of the body. Profile.

FIG. M
Life study by I. Piczek for Shroud research.
The correct position of the body on the Shroud. Profile.

FIG. N
Life study by I. Piczek for Shroud research.
The correct position of the body on the Shroud. Half profile.

FIG. O
Life model posing for Shroud research.

Is there conclusive proof, which even the untrained eye can see, that the body on the Shroud is not flatly reclining?

The experiment with the model provides us with the clue. The one sure difference between the flatly reclining figure and one which is bent with the knees pulled up is the position of the crossed hands in relationship with the genitals. As the model in a reclining position leans forward more and more and slowly pulls up his knees, there comes a point at which the genitals become naturally covered by the crossed hands. At this point the model looks exactly like the body of the Man on the Shroud, -- the two match each other line by line, form by form. The true position of the body has been found and the missing genitals on an otherwise perfect male body are explained. They are not missing, they are simply covered by the hands due to the bending of the body and the pulled up knees. (FIG. P)

FIG. P
Two life studies for Shroud research. Frontal Image.
The Right position (left), the Wrong position (right) for the observation of the differences.

A microscopist does not have to be an expert in art anatomy. Dr. McCrone makes a natural mistake regarding art anatomy when he states that the arms of the Shroud Man are too long -- a mistake a medieval artist made painting the Shroud. His error provides us with further proof of the true position of the body on the Shroud.

The arms would be too long if the Shroud Man would be flatly reclining. The arms, however are entirely parallel with the surface of the Shroud and we see them in linear full length. The torso, the thighs, the lower legs on the other hand we see shortened by geometric perspective and not in full length. They stand at an angle to the surface. Actually, Dr. McCone comes to our aid again. The discrepancy in the length of the arms he points out proves that the body on the Shroud is not in a flatly reclining position.

The professional arts cannot find any such discrepancies and distortions in the anatomy of the Shroud Man, which cannot be explained experimentally and which would prove it to be a painting.

I deliberately do not include here the testimony of art history, because it is a very lengthy and complex study and also, because in some of its aspects it would have to include religious descriptions. Also, I chose not to make suggestions as to what may have caused the image on the Shroud, since it is not a painting. As a physicist I may have one or two suggestions, but here I am not speaking as a physicist, but as a trained, professional artist. It is not the task of the arts to speculate what has created the image on the Shroud.

The task of the arts merely and narrowly is to answer with authority only they can have: Is the Turin Shroud a painting?

The study of the support, ground, the paint mediums and their related techniques and decay, handedness, style, directionality, light focus, art anatomy and geometrical perspective and experimental art all exclude that the object called "the Shroud of Turin" could be a painting.

In view of future conservation and restoration efforts it was mandatory to clarify that the Turin Shroud is not a painting. The conservation of paintings and their restoration involves methods which would destroy something which is not a painting, in this case the Turin Shroud, a unique and irreplaceable item.

End

Important: For the opposing point of view...

In an effort to provide an accurate and unbiased approach to this important area of Shroud study, I wrote Walter McCrone, the most prominent researcher to conclude that the Shroud is a painting, and asked him to participate directly in a discussion of the issue. I have not had a response to date, but, since his work is already available on the Internet, I am including here a direct link to his website so you can review his methods and conclusions in his own words:

McCrone Research Institute Shroud of Turin Page

The McCrone Research Institute, founded by Walter McCrone, noted microscopist, has been active in Shroud research for many years. Their website provides an overview of the data that led Walter McCrone to conclude that the Shroud of Turin is a painting. It includes images showing sites on the Shroud where the tape samples used for his microscopic analysis were taken from, and references to articles published by Walter McCrone and his staff, outlining their tests and their conclusions.


Click on "Alice In Wonderland and The Shroud of Turin" or "The Concept of Negativity Through the Ages vs. The Negative Image on the Shroud" to read other articles written by Isabel Piczek.



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