The Da Vinci Shroud – Revealed

Wednesday 1st July 8.00pm

The historical documentary series continues. This episode looks at fresh theories regarding the shroud of Turin. Long believed to be the cloth that was placed on the body of Christ, the shroud was exposed as a medieval fake in 1988. However, scientists continue to explore how the image of a man was scorched onto the fabric. Some researchers believe that master artist Leonardo Da Vinci created the image using remarkable photographic techniques.

One of the holiest relics in Christianity, the Turin shroud is believed to have swathed the body of Christ after his death. The image of a bloodied, crucified man burned into the fabric of the cloth was first revealed in 1898 when it was captured in a photographic negative. Subsequent tests in 1988 ultimately dated the shroud to between 1260- 1390AD, apparently confirming its status as a medieval forgery.

Yet scientists have been unable to explain how the image was created. Over 50 attempts to duplicate the relic have failed. “Science hasn’t been able to solve this mystery despite thousands of hours of tests,” says historian Clive Prince. The first study of the shroud in 1978 proved that, contrary to expectation, it was not a painting. The image lies on top of the fibres and has not sunk into the fabric as paints or pigments would do.

Most scientists have ruled out the possibility that the image is an imprint of a dead man, owing to what is known as the ‘globe effect’ problem. If the cloth was wrapped around a man’s head, the image of his features would be spread further apart. “You cannot drape a three-dimensional object with a piece of cloth and get the same proportions,” says forensic anthropologist Dr Emily Craig. This gives rise to the theory that the shroud is the work of a master forger.

According to Clive Prince and author Lynn Picknett, that forger was none other than Leonardo Da Vinci. A master artist, scientist and anatomist, Da Vinci was the only person with the talents to undertake such a project. Moreover, Da Vinci did not live by the church’s teachings and would have had no compunction about forging the image of Christ.

The theory is that Da Vinci’s shroud was commissioned to replace an earlier version that was widely denounced as a poor fake. Research indicates that this first shroud was bought by the powerful Savoy family in 1453, only to disappear for 50 years. When it returned to public view, it was hailed as a genuine relic. “It was not just the attitudes that had changed to the shroud – we believe it was actually the shroud itself that changed,” says Prince.

It seems possible that Da Vinci knew the Savoy family. Was he employed to make a new shroud? If so, he had the perfect skills for the job. Da Vinci was one of the first people to conduct autopsies and learn about the inner workings of the human body. He would have also had access to the bones and blood necessary to forge the shroud. “He knew about anatomy and about the physical, muscular structure of the body,” says Professor Larissa Tracy.

Nonetheless, the Turin image remains somewhat out of proportion. Art historian Professor Nicholas Allen believes this is because it is in fact three separate images – a front, a back and a head. He claims that the Turin shroud represents an early example of a photographic image, created using a camera obscura. This primitive form of camera has been in existence since 400BC. Notes for such a device exist in Da Vinci’s papers. But if Da Vinci utilised it to burn the image onto the fabric, who supplied the face of Christ? New research using Da Vinci’s other works for comparison has drawn some fascinating conclusions…

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