It was 19th century Greece during King Otto of Bavaria’s reign. An elusive thief named Christos Davelis was ravaging the area of Mount Pentecliicus around north Athens. Word also had it that he was very handsome: so much so that he may well have seduced the Duchess of Plaisance. Sophie de Marbois was Lebrun’s widow, one of Boneparte’s three consuls.
An eccentric woman: she had chosen to settled in Greece. She had build a splendid villa on one of the slopes of Mount Pentelique, and the assumption was that there was an underground tunnel that led to her handsome robber’s grotto hideaway.
That man, one fine day, overstepped the mark. I seem to recall that he kidnapped the wife of an English diplomat, and her entourage, during thier excursion in the area. So, this angered King Othon and he sent the police force after Davelis. In the end, he was caught, tried and executed. To set an example: his body was beheaded, and the head put on display at the city gates of Athens.
The great Greek painter Litri, just passing by, took a photograph of this bloody debris, and put it in the files that he would later take to Munich where he would be working for a while. While there, he became friends with the German painter Gabriel Cornelius Von Max.
One day when the German artist was in Litri’s studio rummaging through his files, he came across the portrait of Davelis’ head. He asked Litri about the identity of his model: “He was the most terrible thief that Greece has ever known, a ruthless, ferocious man” – “And yet,” Von Max countered, “in this picture, I can see that this man met God at the moment of his death. You have the portrait there of a saint; a great saint.”
Litri thought that Von Max was obviously deranged. “Since he interests you so much, the portrait is my gift to you.” Von Max, the delighted German artist, very carefully took away the portrait and used it to paint his most famous work: ‘The Veil of Veronica’; reproduced millions of times.
If we look closely at this face, we do see the beauty of the model, but also the sensual lips and an almost cruel expression that are absolutely not suitable for the image of the son of God. And yet, this effigy of a Greek bandit is venerated everywhere today as the very image of our Saviour.