Shroud of Turin Facts

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Chiaroscuro Qualities of the Face on the Shroud of Turin

At first glance, the image seems like a work of art or a photograph; what might be called the illusion of chiaroscuro, the use of light and shade independent of color to give a sense of dimensionality to the picture.

Yet for others this very quality in the Shroud of Turin's images is a powerful indication that the image is miraculous even though science cannot support such thinking. The idea is all the more compelling because we are very certain that the image is not a true chiaroscuro; not one that was created by light: not by photography and not by the eye and hand of an artist.

Chiaroscuro in art is an illusion based on the play of light on an object, a face or a landscape. It is one of many techniques that the artist uses to give a sense of dimensionality and depth to a picture just as perspective is a technique. But computerized image analysis of the images on the Shroud of Turin indicates that what we perceive as the play of light in the images is not and cannot be light. The illusion is an illusion of an illusion. And for many people this does not make sense.



There are several important observations about the face:
  • First of all, this is a negative of the face that is seen on the Shroud. This property was first discovered by Secondo Pia in 1898, when he examined the negative of a photograph of the shroud and saw the positive-looking image similar to the photograph on the left.
  • Second, the image shows a gaunt looking face with deep eyes and a very narrow face. This is really an optical illusion caused by dark vertical and horizontal bands. The most noticeable band is vertical and runs down from the top of the picture to the bottom between the outer edge of the right (your right) eye and roughly the hairline. The is a similar band on the left side of the face. And though not as noticeable, there are dark bands that run down both sides of the nose making the nose appear thin.
  • There is a shape like an inverted bowl on the top of the head. It is almost as wide as the head and is near white near the bottom of wide U shape. This is a water stain.
  • The 3-shape on the forehead and the white blobs in the hair are bloodstains. Blood on the shroud has been confirmed to be real human blood. Where it exists on the Shroud, it has soaked through the cloth.
  • You can't see it in this picture but the image itself is superficial to the top two or three fibers of the cloth. In other words nothing has soaked through. The image is contained within a super-thin (160-600 nanometers) coating of starch and saccharides that is thinner than most bacteria. The image is the result of a selective darkening of this coating into a caramel-like substance. Remembering that the image is a negative of the face as it appears on the Shroud, the greatest darkening has taken place where the lightest tones appear in this picture: for instance, the tip of the nose.
  • The hair seems to hang straight down. But this, too, may be an illusion.


  The scientific study of the Turin shroud is like a microcosm of the scientific search for God: it does more to inflame any debate than settle it.”

  And yet, the shroud is a remarkable artefact, one of the few religious relics to have a justifiably mythical status.

  It is simply not known how the ghostly image of a serene, bearded man was made.”

Scientist-Journalist Philip Ball
Nature, January 2005

Nature, that most prestigious of scientific journals, that once had bragging rights to claim that the Shroud was fake, responding to new, peer-reviewed studies that discredit the carbon 14 dating and show that the Shroud could be authentic.


  1. The Shroud of Turin is certainly much older than the now discredited radiocarbon date of 1260-1390. It is at least twice as old and it could be 2000 years old.  FACTS
  2. Though no one knows how it was made, the image is a selective caramel-like darkening of an otherwise clear coating of starch fractions and various saccharides.  FACTS
  3. The blood is real blood.  FACTS
  4. Much of what we think we see in the image is an optical illusion FACTS

Shroud of Turin Facts Check: 2005 Facts