Christ’s body emerges from a near-black background. The composition, cropped at the figure’s knees, creates a sense of closeness between viewer and subject, a sense that is enhanced further by Christ’s gaze which is fixed on the viewer. Jesus is partially covered by the white shroud, and the round holes left on his hands by the nails of the Crucifixion make it clear that we are facing the resurrected Christ. He pinches his flesh with both hands to expose the lance wound on his side, seemingly inviting the viewer to palpate it, and his mouth is open as if about to speak.
The painting is probably based on the late-medieval iconography of Christ displaying his wounds, known as the ostentatio vulnerum, to which the painter adds a complex rhetorical weight typical of the art of this period. Christ’s open mouth and attitude mimic apostrophe, the emotionally-engaging rhetorical device used by preachers when addressing the listener. It is up to the viewer to imagine Christ’s words: he may be inviting the viewer to put his or her finger into the wound. Or, perhaps he is saying, ‘because you have seen me, you have believed’.
The fact that Thomas initially had not seen the risen Christ singles him out among the Apostles and makes him more like us than the rest. In recreating the sight that Thomas would have seen, the painting effectively situates the viewer in Thomas’s place. This, in turn, is meant to capitalize on doubt, a perceived flaw which the viewer may share with Thomas, in order to bring him or her closer to Christ: ‘because you doubted, you are seeing me’. And yet, the vision remains an imperfect fiction; the image might as well be blessing the viewer who, not having seen, has believed.