The mistery of the Veiled Christ
For over 250 years anyone who comes to visit the Cappella Sansevero can’t forbear but admire it: the Veiled Christ, made by Giuseppe Sanmartino in 1753, leaves everyone amazed by the extraordinary transparency of the shroud covering the body of the dead Christ removed from the cross. So much so that since its appearance a legend spread: that the veil has been obtained through a rare alchemical process of marbling, made by the commissioner of the work, the Prince Raimondo di Sangro.
Somebody go so far as to say that the Prince, a notorious Freemason (so that the Sansevero Chapel is a real compendium of Masonic and esoteric symbols), has not hesitated to marbling not only the veil, but also a corpse which would be used to recreate the body of Christ, perhaps after being killed on purpose as, according to some others, the two (a man and a woman) whose skeletons were used as the basis for the anatomical machines of which Fanwave already talked.
The historical reality is less exciting: in a receipt of payment to Sanmartino dated 16 December 1752, signed by the prince and preserved in the Historical archive of the Bank of Naples, Raimondo di Sangro states explicitly of fifty ducats payable “to the Magnificent Giuseppe Sanmartino on my behalf, for the statue of Our Lord in death covered by a veil also of marble”. In other letters, the same prince also states that the veil was produced from the same block of stone as the statue.
In other words the Veiled Christ is a gorgeous Baroque statue, so beautiful that another famous sculptor, Antonio Canova, once declared that he would willingly give up ten years of his own life to produce a similar masterpiece so mysterious as to have given rise to a legend that goes with it since its birth.