Detail of the Shroud of Turin

Giuseppe Enrie Italian

Not on view

Giuseppe Enrie was a portrait photographer active in Turin beginning in 1911. Although he made a living catering to the tastes of the city’s wealthy middle class, he was also involved in the so-called Second Wave of Italian Futurism of the late 1920s and 1930s. He participated in the Esposizione di fotografia futurista held in Turin in 1928 and the Mostra sperimentale di fotografia futurista in 1931. He published an essay on photographic theory entitled "La fotografia contro il suo assoluto" in the catalogue of the latter exhibition, and was director of the photographic journal Vita fotografica italiana. It was through through his prominence in Turin’s photographic community that Enrie was commissioned to photograph the Shroud in May of 1931.
The Shroud of Turin, a linen burial cloth, is believed by many to bear the imprint of the face and wounds of Christ. The first historical record of the Shroud is dated to the 15th century when it was given to the House of Savoy by a French noblewoman. Since the 17th century, it has been housed in a purpose-built chapel connected to Turin’s cathedral. The first photograph of the Shroud was made during its public display in 1898 by the amateur photographer Secondo Pia. Because that photograph was produced with the Shroud under its protective glass, its evidentiary utility came under scrutiny of both believers and non-believers alike. Thus, when the Shroud was displayed publically in 1931 in honor of the wedding of Umberto II to the Belgian princess Maria José, a new set of photographs was commissioned.
Accompanied by a French scientist, a priest, and Secondo Pia, Enrie made twelve negatives of the Shroud. He recorded his methodology in painstaking detail in a 1933 publication, noting exposure times, precise camera settings, and the types of lenses, filters, and lighting that he used. The scientific accuracy with which Enrie photographed the Shroud perhaps ironically produced more fodder for both sides of the debate over its origins and authenticity. Enrie’s photographs of the Shroud were widely distributed. This example includes its original mount, which features printed signatures and insignia of church officials, attesting to the official sanction of the image. A stamp on the verso indicates that this photograph was sold commerically through an ecclesiastical bookshop in Turin – a sacred souvenir.
The Shroud’s status as a miraculous image and true icon in the tradition of Veronica’s Sudarium and the Image of Edessa has also given the Shroud a prominent place in photographic history and theory. Some scholars have suggested that it might be considered "the first photograph," since its image is in fact a negative produced through divine contact. Because the Shroud is itself a negative image, photographic negatives of the Shroud display its positive, so that prints, such as this one, have the reversed tonality of a negative. Enrie’s striking photographs of the Shroud inspired his Futurist milieu to experiment with negatives, and his images were incorporated into surrealism-tinged collages exploring the intersection of religion, dreams, and the supernatural. The quite literally iconic visual power of Enrie’s photograph and the aura that surrounds it make it a central artifact of photography’s history.

Detail of the Shroud of Turin, Giuseppe Enrie (Italian, 1886–1961), Gelatin silver print

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