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Moses, by Michaelangelo De Vaartkapoen, by Tom Frantzen
The veiled Christ, by Giuseppe Sammartino - Scintillating Sculptures
525    Dibyendu Banerjee    22/07/2023

The veiled Christ, a life-sized marble statue created by Giuseppe Sammartino, an Italian sculptor during the Rococo period, depicting Jesus after the crucifixion covered under a transparent shroud, carved from the same block as the statue, is considered a masterpiece of 18th century sculpture and one of the most remarkable sculptures of the world, due to its life-like representation of the body of Jesus and the illusionary veil. Regarded as Sanmartino’s masterpiece, it was commissioned by Raimondo di Sangro, a Prince of Sansevero, who spent much of his life and money renovating the Cappella Sansevero, also known as Santa Maria della Pietà, a chapel in the historic centre of Naples, Italy.

the veiled christ

Raimondo di Sangro, an Italian nobleman with an eclectic personality, who was a writer, scientist and alchemist, but best remembered for his reconstruction of the Sansevero Chapel in Naples, initially commissioned the sculptor Antonio Corradini to create a realistic, life-sized marble tomb effigy of Jesus lying recumbent on a rectangular slab and covered by a thin shroud, as the centerpiece of the chapel.

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Accordingly, Antonio Corradini created a terracotta model to scale, which is now housed in the National Museum of San Martin, but unfortunately died before he could begin the final work.

the veiled christ

After the death of Antonio Corradini, the commission passed to the second choice of Raimondo di Sangro, the young Giuseppe Sammartino, who neglected the earlier model created by Corradini and ended up producing the astonishing sculpture, his own version of The Veiled Christ in 1753, depicting the dead Christ lying on a couch, covered by a transparent shroud carved out of the very same marble block as the rest of the statue.

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To add further details into the marble block, Sammartino used depictions of the objects associated with the Passion of Jesus Christ in Christian symbolism at the feet of Jesus, shackles and the crown of thorns.

the veiled christ

Over the years, visitors to the Cappella were amazed by the sculpture, covered with a veil made from the same block as the statue, which covers the body without concealing it, rather revealing the signs of the suffered martyrdom and intensifying the pain. The great 18th century sculptor Antonio Canova, tried to buy the work, confessing that he would gladly give up ten years of his life to have produced such a masterpiece.

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However, although the success of the Veiled Christ helped launch Sanmartino’s career, over the centuries, the masterly depiction of the veil has acquired a legend involving alchemy of Raimondo di Sangro. Some of the stories claim that Sammartino covered his sculpture with a linen veil, which was transformed by the Prince of Sansevero into marble by some complex chemical-alchemical processes. However, those are only popular legends, among the many other, centred around the Prince of Sansevero.

Moses, by Michaelangelo De Vaartkapoen, by Tom Frantzen
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Author Details
Dibyendu Banerjee
Ex student of Scottish Church College. Served a Nationalised Bank for nearly 35 years. Authored novels in Bengali. Translated into Bengali novels/short stories of Leo Tolstoy, Eric Maria Remarque, D.H.Lawrence, Harold Robbins, Guy de Maupassant, Somerset Maugham and others. Also compiled collections of short stories from Africa and Third World. Interested in literature, history, music, sports and international films.
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