Manoppello Portraits

Manoppello is a small village in the mountains of Abruzzo, Italy. Within the village, at the corner of the road that passes through it and with the mountain behind, is the Church of the Volto Santo di Manoppello. This church contains the 'Manoppello Image' that some claim to be the 'Veil of Veronica'; that which bears the likeness of Jesus not made by human hand. Having lightly venerated the cloth, which is encased in glass up some stairs and behind the altar, I exited the church and visited the small museum next to it. It was empty, cool and subduedly lit. Along one wall were a number of pinboards which contained small photographic portraits, inscriptions and patterned metallic flowers and shields; a little like enlarged brooches. Of the many portraits there a number were quite arresting and of which I took some photographs. This visit occured in March of last year, it having been brought back to mind when reading a magazine article from 1951 by the wonderful photographer Berenice Abbott. In this article, entitled 'Photography at the Crossroads,' she states, "The Civil War created a demand for millions of 'likenesses' of the young men marching off to the front" and states later that "People were wild with enthusiasm for these realistic 'speaking likenesses'". She goes no further in developing the idea of the power that these images would have had for loved ones and, for the sake of her article, she doesn't need to. However, I thought of this in relation to these small (around 10-15cm high) photographic prints of the chaps who were off to the Great War from the village and its surrounds. It is engaging and emotive to think that the villagers of Mannoppello would look upon the veil in the church and speak their prayers directly to the image of Jesus' face on the cloth quite possibly clenching these very photographs in their anxious hands. I can only imagine the depth of emotion felt by the person knelt in the church mediating between these images, the faces of those deeply connected to them but seemingly worlds away.

From an outsider's aesthetic and rather superficial standpoint I was quite astonished by the vitality and smoothness of these mountain-bred fellows. Something of their hewn-marble look can be attributed to the beautiful photography but my these chaps look rather more dashing than the slovenly gibbons that we contemporary men appear as in comparison (and I mean no disrespect to the fantastic family hylobatidae).