The idea behind this image of Christ is that when offered a cloth to wipe his face, his image would appear upon it. Despite being a well known story, there is no actual account of it within the Bible, but somehow it became particularly well known over time. El Greco himself chose to incorporate the idea into his own work and produced several studies in which he investigated how best to tackle this subject. He tried some depictions showing the lady holding up the cloth, whilst in this piece we just see the veil itself. She is generally believed to have been known as Veronica, although there is still some confusion over where this story connects to the Bible itself. The artist was tasked with decorating the altarpiece of the church of Santo Domingo el Antiguo in Toledo and he would choose this subject to be included within that work. The item displayed here was a preparatory piece for that project.
The image found here features Christ looking directly at us, with his image being remarkably life like and clear, considering how it magically appeared on the veil. The top two corners of the cloth are scrunched together, perhaps in preparation for how they might be being held at the time by a figure who was left out of this study piece. Long hair and a short beard are used to help us immediately identify the figure, even for those who might have been unaware of the tale itself. This piece relating to Saint Veronica essentially falls between the two genres in which El Greco worked throughout his life, namely portaiture and religious themes. His work with the latter would normally be much more grand and complex, with some artworks reaching up to four metres in height. This piece is more in line with his personal portraits, which rarely went beyond a metre in height. He was a highly accomplished portrait painter who would fit smaller commissions in between his larger undertakings.
Experts have examined this piece and concluded that members of the artist's studio are likely to have been involved in its design. As his career developed, El Greco would be inundated with requests for work and eventually he had to call upon assistants to help out with some of these commissions. His son was eventually promoted to lead the studio, whilst El Greco concentrated on leading the main direction of each artwork and completing their most important details. This was entirely typical of the period, particularly for those who had built a strong reputation and extensive network of patrons. In time, historians have been able to spot the work of others within these paintings and determine how much of his own hand was involved. The studio completed many copies of his work and even went off in their own direction from time to time as his trust in them increased.