The Blood of Christ

Painted wood
Chapel of San Tarasio
Church of San Zaccaria, Venice, Italy

The legend at the base of this image says that the chapel has a vial of the blood of Christ on the altar (supra altare) of St. Sabina and the body of one of the Holy Innocents behind the altar of "St. Stephen the Confessor."

In honor of the precious vial the painting adopts elements from two medieval image types. From Crucifixions of the later Middle Ages it takes the angel collecting blood from Christ's side in a chalice. Secondly, it models the figure of Christ on Man of Sorrows images (the naked torso, the wounds in hands and side, the crown of thorns, the closed eyes), but instead of the anguished visage and folded hands of that tradition this Christ raises one hand to show the wound and with the other calmly looks down to the blood pouring from his side.

In view of the other relic announced in the legend, it may be that the three angels are to be taken as Holy Innocents now in Heaven. They all have distinctly childlike faces, though they are clearly not putti. The two on left and right wear small crowns, an attribute of martyrs but not of angels.

"Confessor" is the title given to male saints who were not martyrs, clergy, or religious. The only "confessor" among the many saints named Stephen is King Stephen of Hungary.

The legend reads, Pateat universis qualiter in hac capella supra altare beate sabin[e] martiris abemus de sanguine domini nostri iesu xristi in vasculo habemuus corpus unius scanctorum innocentium.... in archa que est post altare sancti stefani confessoris contra sepulcrum, "Be it known to all that in this chapel on the altar of the blessed martyr Sabina we have some blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ in a vial. We have a body of one of the Holy Innocents in a case that is behind the altar of St. Stephen the Confessor, up against the sepulcher.

View this image in full resolution.
Read more about the Man of Sorrows image type.
Read more about images of the Crucifixion.
Read more about images of the Holy Innocents.

Photographed at the chapel by Richard Stracke, shared under Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license.