Sunday, May 1, 2011

Iconography of the Resurrection – The Incredulity of St. Thomas (Doubting Thomas)

Luca Signorelli, Doubting Thomas
Italian, 1477-1482
Loreto, Basilica of the Santa Casa

“Thomas, called Didymus, one of the Twelve, was not with them when Jesus came.So the other disciples said to him, “We have seen the Lord.”
But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nailmarks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”

Now a week later his disciples were again inside and Thomas was with them.  Jesus came, although the doors were locked, and stood in their midst and said, “Peace be with you.”

Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands, and bring your hand and put it into my side, and do not be unbelieving, but believe.”  
Thomas answered and said to him, “My Lord and my God!”
Jesus said to him, “Have you come to believe because you have seen me?  Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.”

(John 20:24-29)

Doubting Thomas
from the Ramsay Psalter
English, ca. 1275-1300
St. Paul in Lavanttal, Stiftbibliothek
MS Cod.58/1

When I was a child I always waited with some excitement for the Sunday after Easter when this quotation from John is read as part of the Gospel of the day. For a child, or even for an adult, there is a certain “yuck factor” about the scene. And we know how kids (or adults) are drawn to that “yuck factor”. The idea of putting your hand into someone’s side is, well, yucky.

But, of course, this episode was not included in John’s Gospel to give us the creeps. In the first place it underscores the bodily reality of the Resurrection. One of the things about ghosts is that you cannot touch them. As the ghost of M. de Ste. Colombe’s wife tells him in a touching scene in the film Tous les matins du monde (1991) “You would only touch air.”   So, the Risen Jesus’ invitation to Thomas underscores the reality of the Resurrection.  He can be touched, His wounds can be probed with a finger or a hand. He is real, flesh and blood, NOT a ghost or an apparition resulting from passionate longing, like Mme de Ste. Colombe.

Secondly, the Gospel underlines the future of the church, already known by the time John wrote his Gospel at the end of the first century. It would be a church filled with those “who have not seen and have believed” (John 20:29). And, that’s all of us during these nineteen hundred years.

During about one thousand of those nineteen hundred years numerous artists have imagined this moment. The images they have produced tend to fall into two separate iconographic types: (1) the moment of touch and (2) Thomas’ confession of belief.  Though somewhat distinct types they interweave through time and every picture of the encounter between the Risen Jesus and Doubting Thomas have much in common.

In what might be characterized as the "Moment of Touch" type, Thomas stands more or less on the same level of Jesus.  The body of Jesus is posed in such a way that it presents a virtual invitation to Doubting Thomas to touch His wounds.

Doubting Thomas
from a Gradual
German (Pruem), c. 986-1001
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Latin 9448, fol. 43v

Christ Appearing to the Disciples and Doubting Thomas
from a New Testament
French (North), 11th Century
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Arsenal 592, fol. 105

Doubting Thomas
from a Lectionary
Austrian (Salzburg), 1070-1090
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M780, fol. 39v
Doubting Thomas
Psalter of Christina of Markyate
English (St. Alban's), 1124-1145
Hildesheim, Dombibliothek

Ham of Fecamp, Doubting Thomas
from a Psalter
French (Normandy), c. 1180
The Hague, Koninklijk Bibliotheek
MS KB 76 F 13, fol. 25r
Anonymous, Doubting Thomas
French, 14th Century
Paris, Musédu Louvre

Duccio. Incredulity of Thomas
Italian, 1308-1311
Siena, Museo dell'Opera del Duomo

Giovanni Battista Bertucci the Elder, Doubting Thomas with a Donor Presented by Saint Anthony of Padua
Italian, c. 1500-1515
London, National Gallery

In the second "type", which I am calling Thomas' "Confession of Faith", Saint Thomas is shown not only placing his finger into the wounds of Christ, but doing so while kneeling or at least shown with a knee bent, presumably on the way to fully kneeling.  This is the visual rendering of the moment when Thomas says "My Lord and my God!" (John 20:28).

Ivory Plaque, Doubting Thomas
German, c. 1140-1160
New  York, Metropolitan Museum of Art
Doubting Thomas
from Vita Christi
English (East Anglia), c. 1190
Los Angeles, J. Paul Getty Museum
MS 101, fol. 89

Master Henri, Doubting Thomas
from Livre d'images de Madame Marie
Belgian (Hainaut), c. 1285-1290
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Nouvelle acquisition francaise 16251, fol. 47v
Doubting Thomas
from Sermons by Maurice de Sully
Italian (Milan or Genoa), c. 1320-1330
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Francais 187, fol. 13v

Giovanni da Milano, Doubting Thomas
Italian, c. 1365
Newark (DE), Alana Collection
Jean Bondol, Doubting Thomas
from Bible historiale by Guiard des Moulins
French (Paris), c. 1372-1373
The Hague, Meermano Museum
MS MMW 10 B 23, fol. 524v

Alabaster Relief
English, Late 14th Century
London, Victoria and Albert Museum

From about the beginning of the thirteenth century some pictures began to appear in which Christ no longer simply offers His wounded side for Thomas' touch, but grasps his hand to guide it into the wound.

Doubting Thomas
from Psalter of St. Louis and Blanche of Castille
French (Paris), ca. 1225
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Arsenal 1186, fol. 26 (detail)
Noli me tangere and Doubting Thomas
Leaf from Ramsey Psalter
England (Ramsey Abbey), 1295-1315
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M302, fol. 3v
This artist chose what is known in art history as a "compare/contrast" for these two post-Resurrection events.  On the left, the kneeling Mary Magdalene is instructed not to touch Jesus, while on the right Jesus guides the hand of the kneeling Thomas into his side.
Jean Colombe, Doubting Thomas
from Vita Jesu Christi by Ludolphe de Saxe
French (Bourges), c. 1475-1500
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Francais 179, fol. 186v

Doubting Thomas
Dutch, c. 1500
Lyon, Musée des Beaux-Arts

In the Renaissance period and after artists have continued to imagine this events using all of these themes and adding reactions other than awe to the other disciples.

Verrocchio. Doubting Thomas
Italian, 1476-1483
Florence, Orsanmichele

Luca Signorelli, Doubting Thomas
Italian, 1477-1482
Loreto, Basilica of the Santa Casa

Sometimes the same artist used different "types" for different paintings, as did, for example, Cima da Conegliano.

Giovanni Battista Cima da Conegliano, Doubting Thomas
Italian, c. 1502-1504
London, National Gallery
Giovanni Battista Cima da Conegliano, Doubting Thomas with Bishop Magno Looking On
Italian, c. 1505
Venice, Gallerie dell'Accademia

Francesco Salviati, Doubting Thomas
Italian, c. 1543-1547
Paris, Musée du Louvre
Simon de Chalons, Doubting Thomas
French, c. 1550
Paris, Musée du Louvre

Maerten de Vos, Doubting Thomas
Flemish, 1574
Antwerp, Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten

Leandro Bassano, Doubting Thomas
Italian, 1592-1594
St. Petersburg, State Hermitage Museum

Probably the most famous image, as well as the most powerful, is the painting by Caravaggio. True to his aesthetic of edgy, unrefined chiaroscuro realism the scene is presented without any softening idealism. Caravaggio's Jesus rather matter-of-factly guides Thomas’ finger into the wound in his side with his left hand, on which we can see the nail hole. Thomas, meanwhile, demonstrates intense concentration, from his wrinkled brow to the straining muscles in this neck. And, his expression is mirrored in the faces of two other disciples who are leaning in to watch.
Caravaggio, Doubting Thomas
Italian, 1601-1602
Potsdam, Sans Souci Museum

This image had an immediate impact on how this subject was presented and in the century after Caravaggio most painters took this image as the formative one for the subject, although most have not presented it with anything like this “in your face” intensity.
Hendrick Terbrugghen, Doubting Thomas
Dutch, c. 1604
Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum

Rubens, Doubting Thomas
Flemish, 1613-1615
Antwerp, Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten
Guercino, Douibting Thomas
Italian, 1621
London, National Gallery
Anthony Van Dyck, Doubting Thomas
Flemish, 1625-1626
St. Petersburg, State Hermitage Museum
Wouter Pieterszoon Crabeth, Doubting Thomas
Dutch, c. 1626-1630
Amsterdam, Riijksmuseum
Rembrandt, Doubting Thomas
Dutch, 1634
Moscow, Pushkin Museum
Simon Vouet, Doubting Thomas
French, 1636
Lyon, Musée des Beaux-Arts
Matthias Stom (or Stomer), Doubting Thomas
Dutch, 1644-1649
Madrid, Museo del Prado

Leendert van der Cooghen, Doubting Thomas
Dutch, 1654
The Hague, Mauritshuis Museum

Some artists did experiment with alternate ways of presenting the story while retaining the Caravaggesque chiaroscuro style.
Mattia Preti, Doubting Thomas
Italian, c. 1656-1660
Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum
By the eighteenth century the influence of Caravaggio's great painting had diminished and artists began to draw back from this intense focus on the central action to present a more generalized image.  They also revert back to the "Confession of Faith" type, rarely used during the seventeenth century, in which Thomas kneels or begins to kneel.

Carlo Carlone, Doubting Thomas
Italian, c. 1750
Vienna, Belvedere Museum
Franz Anton Maulbertsch, Doubting Thomas
Austrian, c.1764
Vienna, Belvedere Museum

Paul Baudry, Doubting Thomas
French, 1850
La Roche-sur-Yon, Musée municipal
James Tissot, Doubting Thomas
French, 1886-1894
New York, Brooklyn Museum
Tissot has added a new element to this work.  In all the previous images the wounds of Jesus appear naturalisticlly, as open wounds.  Here Tissot has shown them as glowing star-like marks on the feet, hands and side.

© M. Duffy, 2011, amended 2017