Woodcarver Ezine
Back Issues
Carvers' Companion Gateway


by Kathleen Menéndez

Pyrography News From Around the World

Newsletter No. 22, Page One of Three


Page One:
- Irene Corgiat and the Shroud of Turin

Page Two:
- Michael Janson on Pyro and Computer Graphics

Page Three:
- Jim Hicks--Portraits in Pyrography and Chalk
- Michael Mabbott--Solar Pyroengravings
- Home

Irene Corgiat and the Shroud of Turin

The Face on the Shroud of Turin
by Irene Corgiat

Pyrography on natural linen
Blood stains done with a tempera dye

Digital image by Sharon Garvey
from reproduction courtesy of the artist

Unique in the World

Italian artist Irene Corgiat of Baldissero near Turin says that she has always loved working in figurative art--besides pyrography she has worked in drawing on paper; painting on cloth and ceramics; oil painting and china painting.

But of all of those, pyrography is the one she prefers. She learned it some thirty years ago from an uncle who liked working in pyrography and introduced her to the technique. Right away she knew she loved it.

Irene has done many works in pyrography--on wood as well as on velour paper. See a variety of those works exhibited in her salon in the E-Museum of Pyrographic Art. [1]

On cloth, however, the only piece in pyrography she has ever done is one that required long hours and very delicate, precision work. It is unique in the world--her Face on the Shroud of Turin.

The Shroud of Turin

The Shroud of Turin is a centuries-old linen cloth, 14 ft long and 3.5 ft wide, which is kept in museum-quality conditions at the Catholic Cathedral in Turin Italy. It bears the barely visible, full-sized image--front and back--of a crucified man. (Irene Corgiat copied only the face seen above for her pyrograph.) Throughout the centuries millions of people have believed the Shroud to be the 2000-year-old burial cloth of the crucified body of Jesus of Nazareth, onto which His sacred image was burned by the heat and light of His Resurrection.

Since the Resurrection is the cornerstone of the Christian faith, the Shroud has been an object of devotion and wonderment for however many years it has been in existence, and an object of intense study since 1898 when the photographic negative of the first photograph ever taken of it revealed a 3-dimensional positive image of the Man on the Shroud. [3, 9]

Some Landmark Dates in the History of the Shroud

1349: The first known documentation of the Shroud's existence.
1532: The Shroud was burned in a fire that left parallel burn marks along the folds of the cloth on either side of the central image.
1534: Chambéry's Poor Clare nuns repaired the burned parts of the cloth and added a backing of linen to reinforce the weakened Shroud.
1898: The first photograph of the Shroud was taken by a lawyer named Secondo Pia. Quite unexpectedly, the photographic negative produced an image--the first time that anyone had seen it--a 3-dimensional, positive image of the Man on the Shroud.
1978: The Shroud of Turin Research Project, Inc. (STURP) Team of international experts was allowed to investigate the properties of the Shroud for five days and nights in a laboratory in Turin. [3, 9]
1988: Representatives from three different independent laboratories were allowed to perform the Carbon-14 dating test on a small sample of the Shroud's material (but not on the central image). Their test results indicated that with 95% certainty the Shroud linen was medieval, dating from between 1260 and 1390. A Church cleric made the announcement to the press. [3, 9]
2002: A team of experts restored the Shroud by removing the 30 patches sewn on in 1534 and likewise its medieval backing, which was replaced with another.
Also that year, three important scientific papers were submitted refuting the validity of the Carbon-14 dating test from 1988. [3]

The Controversy

The Believers

Without a doubt, there are and have been millions of believers in the authenticity of the Shroud through the centuries. At the Cathedral of Turin in Italy where the Holy Shroud resides, an annual Mass is offered in the month of May to allow the faithful another opportunity to express their devotion to this religious icon and relic. Along with the believers, there are countless others who remain uncommitted regarding the Shroud's authenticity, but who are nonetheless spiritually moved by the Shroud as a religious icon and who cherish the hope that one day it will be proven to be the holiest of relics in Christianity.

The Catholic Church

The Catholic Church basically takes the same position as the second group, that is, in hoping that the Shroud of Turin is authentic but waiting until the Shroud's authenticity is either proven or disproven before making any definitive declaration. The Church takes great care to preserve this centuries-old artifact and encourages devotion to it as a sacred icon and the possible holiest of relics it may, in fact, be.

The Sindonologists

The word sindonologist originates from Sindone (SEEN-doh-nay) the Italian word for Shroud, and refers to experts in the study of the Shroud. A precise word for this specialty is most appropriate since no other artifact in history has been studied by so many specialists of all kinds dedicated to determining its origins.

American sindonologist Barrie Schwortz is an imaging specialist who was chosen as the official documenting photographer on the famous STURP team that studied the Shroud day and night for five days in 1978. Remembering his frame of mind immediately preceding that research, Barrie Schwortz recently said, "I was absolutely convinced the Shroud of Turin was nothing but a painting. As a matter of fact, I fully expected to go to Turin, and step up to the Shroud, and see the brush strokes, and go home." Little did he imagine then, that that intensive research in 1978 would change the course of his life. He has been an avid sindonologist ever since, and for the last seven years has built a website devoted to Shroud research that is sought out by sindonologists and skeptics alike. [3, 9]

The Skeptics

The late Walter McCrone is one of the most respected of those who are convinced the Shroud is only an icon and not a relic and who are likewise intent on confirming their position. His ideas are set forth in his book entitled Judgement Day for the Shroud of Turin and his work continues in the Walter McCrone Research Institute of Chicago. [6]

Once I learned from one internet source there was a pyrograph of the Shroud in existence, it took me months more of internet searching before, ultimately, thanks to a paper by Mariano Tomatis for CICAP [7], another organization of well respected skeptics, that I discovered Irene Corgiat's name. And it was thanks to Mariano Tomatis that I was finally able to contact Irene for an interview.

Another declared skeptic is an Italian writer by the name of Vittoria Haziel, who wrote a book about her very decided ideas on the origins of the Shroud. She doesn't think it is 2000 years old, nor does she think it's medieval--she thinks it was made in the Renaissance and done in pyrography by Leonardo da Vinci. [2]

The 'Scoop' on the Shroud (Lo Scoop sulla Sindone)
Irene Corgiat on left, and in the background
her pyrograph The Face on the Shroud of Turin
Vittoria Haziel on right shown holding her book
The Passion According to Leonardo (La Passione Secondo Leonardo)

Digital image by Sharon Garvey
from an autographed poster courtesy of the artist

A Once-in-a-Lifetime Opportunity

Once on the lecture circuit after her book--The Passion According to Leonardo--was published in Milan in 1998, Vittoria Haziel felt the need to demonstrate that a pyrographic work was the key to the mystery of the Shroud.

She approached Irene Corgiat and offered her a pyrographic artist's once-in-a-lifetime opportunity: to render a pyrograph of the face from the Shroud on a piece of linen similar to the original.

Leonardo's Alphabet
by Irene Corgiat

Leonardo da Vinci was lefthanded
The thousands of pages of his writings that remain today
were mostly all done in mirror writing.
That is, his letters were backwards and written from right to left
in a script that could be read by holding it to a mirror.

Digital photograph by Sharon Garvey from print courtesy of the artist

The "Leonardo" Theory

Vittoria Haziel is not the only person to think that a clever artist with scientific knowledge--and who fits that description better than Leonardo da Vinci?--might have been able to fabricate the Shroud. This is what the author herself has to say:

"My book The Passion According to Leonardo," Vittoria Haziel states, "is not a theory but rather a preliminary investigation with documentation and testimonials. (Besides being a writer, I have a law degree.) Whoever has read my book knows the seriousness and 'scientific' rigor with which over a period of several years I conducted my research."

The following excerpt discussing Irene's pyrograph was written by Mariano Tomatis in a conference paper presented to the Italian Committee for the Control of Affirmations of the Paranormal (CICAP): [7]

". . . Also present in the [convention] hall was the journalist Vittoria Haziel, who during the debate showed the photograph of a face that is in every way like the one on the Shroud, executed with the technique of pyrography by Irene Corgiat, an artist from Baldissero near Turin. In spite of its being a reproduction of only the face, it looks extraordinarily like that of the man of the Shroud. What is important to emphasize is the fact that the pyrographic technique might be useful for reproducing an image, but its use is little credible for the creation of an impression of this type. In any case, Corgiat's little 'shroud' is the best answer to date to the objections of so many sindonologists who maintain the impossibility of reproducing an image with the same characteristics of the Shroud, particularly with all of its details. The problem of the blood remains, partially resolved by Corgiat with the application of a tempera dye directly on the surface of the sheet."

Irene's Pyrotool and Her "Little Shroud"

Digital image by Sharon Garvey
from a black-and-white photocopy courtesy of the artist

Technical Aspects

Tool. To create her shroud, Irene Corgiat used an electric pyrography tool (pictured above) with the universal point. It is the same tool and point she uses for all of her pyrographic work. [1]

Technique. "The pyrographic technique," Irene says, "is always the same, whether you're working on wood, on velour paper, or on cloth. The difference lies in the shading effects and the pressure of the hand. On cloth it is much more delicate than on wood or velour paper. But the 'miracle' of this art work was to never burn through the cloth and to recreate the image just as it is [in the original]."

To give me a better idea, Irene sent a piece of the same delicate linen cloth she had used to recreate the face on the Shroud. On it she wrote my name in Leonardo da Vinci's lettering style and going from right to left, as he did. It is shown in the image following.

A linen sampler in Leonardo's script
by Irene Corgiat

Pyrograph of name Kathleen M. Garvey Menendez
written from right to left in Leonardo da Vinci's script
on the same linen she used to pyrograph the Face on the Shroud of Turin
commissioned by Vittoria Haziel

Digital photograph by Sharon H. Garvey of Irene Corgiat's linen pyrograph

National Geographic Revives the Leonardo Theory

Just when sindonologists thought the whole Leonardo idea was a couple of years behind them, an issue dealt with and dispatched, a thing of the past and forgotten, all of a sudden it was once more prominently out there and in a very attractive package--a National Geographic documentary full of paintings by Leonardo, drawings by Leonardo, inventions by Leonardo, mirror writings by Leonardo, and scenes of Italy. [4] In short, it had enormous popular appeal. Interspersed with all of that were interviews in short clips going from one to the other and back again with several academics who think Leonardo most likely created the Shroud. The film also focused on others who offered varied solutions for the 'how to' part, and included the occasional comments of one person presumably meant to represent the sindonologists of the world: Barrie Schwortz. Finally, the film leaves the viewers to draw their own conclusions since it ends asking again the same question asked at the beginning: "Is Leonardo the Man Behind the Shroud?"

National Geographic credits Vittoria Haziel with the idea for their recently aired documentary: Da Vinci and the Mystery of the Shroud. [9] Yet, although she was featured often in the one-hour film, relating the persuasive historical background, mainly socio-political, that lead to her ideas and ultimately, her book, she expressed disappointment that the film omitted elements of her research she considered essential. She especially expressed regret that they did not include Irene Corgiat's shroud, which she considers "the only case in the world that proves the ability to reproduce the Shroud and shows the method used by Leonardo." [2]

Irene Corgiat's pyrograph, unfortunately, did not make the final cut, which was indeed disappointing, especially since it is a much more convincing match than Dr. Nicholas Allen's medieval photograph, which they did use. [9]

The Face on the Shroud of Turin
(Negative and Positive Imges)
by Irene Corgiat, 2000

Pyrography on natural linen

On left: original (negative image) pyrograph on linen, signed
On right: (positive) image made from photographic negative of the original
(Note that the artist's signature is now reversed)

Digital image by Sharon Garvey
from a black-and-white photocopy courtesy of the artist

"What It's Not"

Barrie Schwortz would be the first to say that the Shroud's authenticity has yet to be proven, but he would also point out that no scientific evidence offered so far has absolutely disproved it either. As he said in the National Geographic documentary, what sindonologists have mainly been able to establish so far about the Shroud is "what it's not." Here is what he wrote nearly a year ago in our initial correspondence on the pyrographed shroud regarding data collected by the STURP team in 1978: [3, 9]

"The actual scientific evidence that excludes heat as the image formation mechanism of the Shroud is the ultraviolet fluorescence photography done in 1978 by Vernon Miller. Since scorched linen fluoresces under specific ultraviolet illumination, the entire Shroud was photographed using special UV lights and filters. The resulting photographs clearly showed fluorescence in all the known burn and scorch marks on the Shroud, but absolutely no fluorescence in the image area. Thus, we were able to exclude "heat" as an image formation mechanism in 1978."

The Face on the Shroud of Turin
Irene Corgiat Posing with Her Work
at the September 2000 CICAP Convention, Principi di Piemonte Hotel

Digital image by Sharon Garvey
from a color photograph courtesy of the artist

Closing Thoughts

"Myself, I am a believer," Irene Corgiat affirms, " And although I have recreated the face of the Shroud, I have not touched any dogma of the Church."

"I have had contact with sindonologists, Irene adds, "And while some were 'scandalized', others have shown a great deal of interest in my technique."

"On various occasions I have gone to see the Shroud during the expositions [at the Cathedral in Turin]. It is something truly beautiful and impressive, however human or divine it may be."

References and Items of Interest

1. A varied display of Irene Corgiat's other works is exhibited in her salon in the E-Museum of Pyrographic Art.

2. Vittoria Haziel's book is entitled La Passione secondo Leonardo (The Passion According to Leonardo). It is written in Italian and was published in Milan by Sperling & Kupfer in 1998.

3. With well over a million visitors already, Barrie Schwortz's comprehensive website on the Shroud of Turin www.shroud.com is well worth a visit for anyone interested in reading more on this intriguing artifact and all the science that has gone into ascertaining its origins. It is also a valuable source for keeping up with the latest developments in Shroud study, including the extensive restoration (needless to say, not without its own controversy likewise documented at www.shroud.com), which was performed in the year 2002--an event of great significance, as Barrie Schwortz expressed, that regrettably went almost unnoticed in the American media.

4. Collegamento pro Sindone is an Italian site for sindonologists written in both Italian and English. The reference in the text is specifically to a June 2002 newsletter by Ilona Farkas on that website.

5. The Catholic Church has its own official Shroud website prepared by the Archdiocese of Turin.

6. The Walter McCrone Research Institute of Chicago continues the work of the late Walter McCrone, a respected skeptic.

7. Another group of well regarded skeptics is The Italian Committee for the Control of Affirmations of the Paranormal (Comitato Italiano per il Controllo delle Affermazioni sul Paranormale, or CICAP. This link is to the paper (in the original Italian) by Mariano Tomatis in which he talks about Irene Corgiat's pyrograph (quoted in English in this article).

8. Article (in Italian) by Alfredo Lissoni, "Sindone, Un Falso Leonardesco?" ("The Shroud: A Fake by Leonardo?")

9. National Geographic film credits for their recently aired documentary: Da Vinci and the Mystery of the Shroud, which was produced for them by a Turinese production company.
This is the National Geographic website address with links to viewing schedules and information on their programming.

10. Highly recommended for fans of Leonardo da Vinci (and who isn't?) is a special exhibit entitled Leonardo da Vinci, Master Draftsman of nearly 120 of Leonardo's drawings at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. The good news for anyone who can't be in New York City while the exhibit is running (22 January to 30 March 2003) is that, beautifully prepared in conjunction with the exhibit, is a special interactive feature on the Metropolitan Museum of Art website displaying many of those drawings.

Click here to go to page two>>>

2003, Kathleen M. Garvey Menéndez, all rights reserved.