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marilyn manson and the veil of veronica

Marilyn Manson, the musician, painted ‘Trismegistus’ (Thrice-Great) in 2004.  See how it both draws on, and departs from, religious iconography (as evidenced by the painting below it).

'Trismegistus' by Marilyn Manson (2004)


'The Veil of Veronica' by Domenico Fetti (ca. 1618)

According to Christian tradition, a woman named Veronica wiped the face of Jesus as he was carrying the cross toward Golgotha.  The cloth she used was said to retain an image of his face.  Manson’s work is similar to Fetti’s in that both appear to be inspired by this moment in tradition (notice the crown of thorns, the bruised visage, and the stained and faded cloth).  But where Fetti’s work is interested primarily in ‘recreating’ the relic for devotional purposes, Manson’s work is more complex, asking us to confront the fact that the ‘original’ image has been distorted.  For instance, it is difficult to observe Manson’s painting and not wonder what attitude it assumes toward the Christian story.  As a gesture, what does it imply?

Keep in mind that the painting’s title might refer to Hermes Trismegistus, a figure from ancient history, who, according to Greek tradition, was a merging of the Greek god Hermes and the Egyptian god Thoth, and who has been described as both a wise man and a magician.  As such, the melding of faces in the painting could be construed as a metaphor – the Christian tradition as seen through a pagan perspective.  On the other hand, we might also remember that most strains of Christianity are based on a triune conception of God – the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  In this sense, Manson’s depiction speaks to a basic Christian truth – three persons in one God.

Manson’s reputation as an opponent of established Christianity should not be ignored in a discussion of these paintings, and neither should the fact that his technical skills as a painter might be inferior to Fetti’s.  But insofar as this painting suggests his relationship toward Christianity is more complex than otherwise imagined, it might be useful to consider the painting on its own terms.

6 thoughts on “marilyn manson and the veil of veronica

  1. it wld make for an interesting take on ‘talking heads’

    or possibly Manson has a really bad case of religious astigmatism?

    both images are iconographic, if they were mimetic I would suspect a rough towel with a brown smudge wld be more realistic

    though w/ Manson I always suspect the tendency of a self portrait

  2. Ed – I like how you phrase Veronica’s story as “Christian Tradition.” I am fond of these types of “stories” as they walk a unique line.

    For instance, neither Veronica (nor this story) is ever mentioned in the bible. Yet, this story is one of the Stage of the Cross in the Catholic Church (6 or 7 I think) – a major event. The story may be included in one of the Apocryphal books, but I do not recall it there.

    Anyway, a nice sidestory. Thanks for posting.

    1. thanks bl

      The name Veronica can be traced to the Latin word for ‘true’ (vera) and the Greek word for ‘icon’ (eikon). Thus, the name or idea of Veronica (true icon) seems to describe the story of the veil as much as it describes the woman associated with the veil. Such an etymology suggests that a story was created as a way of explaining the existence of the icon in the early Christian Church. This might be why we find Veronica in the Stations of the Cross (a devotional tradition), but not in the Gospels themselves.

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