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).
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.