Illustrated Treatise on the Shroud of Turin

Engraving of Paleotti (leaf †4r)

Alfonso Paleotti (1531–1610), Archbishop of Bologna. Esplicatione del lenzuolo, ove fu involto il signore. Bologna: Heirs of Giovanni Rossi, 1598. Morgan Library & Museum, purchased on the Henry S. Morgan Fund, 2016 (PML 196629).

This is the rare first edition of an illustrated treatise on the Shroud of Turin, written fifteen years after its translation from Chambéry, France to Turin, Italy. Paleotti was Archbishop of Bologna (Turin is in the diocese of Bologna) and a major proponent of the cult of this most important relic in Christendom. The printed treatise includes Paleotti’s own first-hand account of seeing the relic, as well as numerous testimonials of the miraculous power of the Shroud. This is one of the first books devoted solely to a single relic and testifying to its genuine nature. Such written accounts on the validity of holy relics were important during the Counter Reformation after the Council of Trent. Cardinal Gabriele Paleotti (1522–1597), Alfonso’s cousin and the previous Archbishop of Bologna, wrote a treatise on the roles of sacred and profane images (De sacris et profanis imaginibus, 1582) and argued for the devotional role of holy images, several times referring specifically to the Shroud.

The artist Agostino Carracci (1557–1602) designed the title page and two illustrations for the text: an engraving depicting Paleotti venerating the Shroud before the skyline of Bologna and a fold-out chiaroscuro woodcut of the Shroud printed in yellow ochre. The woodcut was an important devotional surrogate for the rarely-seen relic, which was shown only once per year in the 16th century, and was even then a very faint image. The letters printed around the Shroud woodcut are keyed to meditative descriptions in the text.

The Shroud was last shown in Turin from 19 April–24 June 2015, when more than two million visitors saw the relic. It will likely not be on view again until 2025.

The Morgan’s copy of Esplicatione del lenzuolo is bound in contemporary limp vellum with the signature of Claudia Marescoti on the front fly leaf.


Shroud woodcut (bound after leaf †4)


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