The Incredulity of St. Thomas by Bernardo Strozzi

Bernardo Strozzi

The Incredulity of St Thomas, c.1620, Oil on canvas, 112.1 x 89.5 cm, Museo de Arte de Ponce, Puerto Rico, Museo de Arte de Ponce, Puerto Rico / Bridgeman Images

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‘Blessed Are They That Have Not Seen’

Commentary by

Bernardo Strozzi depicts Thomas as a surprised middle-aged man. His bearded face, nearly a profil perdu, is shown cast in shadows against the light background of Christ’s shroud. Thomas’s eyes, shielded by bushy eyebrows, squint as he examines Christ’s wound up close. The artist cleverly uses short-sightedness as a metaphor of Thomas’s disbelief, a trait the figure shares with certain stereotypical depictions of Jews in Christian art. All in all, the painting presents Thomas as a convincing life-like figure, the vein in his neck bulging anxiously as, a doubt within another, he hesitates to touch.

However, other passages make us aware that Thomas’s halo is one sweeping arc of the brush, his white collar a loaded white stroke, and Christ’s shroud a succession of dabs in an unreal pink hue. These painterly qualities seem to invite the viewer to explore the meaning of seeing and not seeing. While the painting reveals, it also conceals. It makes the invisible visible, yet it is an emphatically man-made image; a picture of the divine but ultimately an artful arrangement of oil-bound pigments on a stretched piece of cloth. This in turn highlights the existence of several forms of seeing: as we look at Strozzi’s painting, we do not see Christ’s apparition to Thomas in the same sense as, according to John’s Gospel, Thomas experienced it. While the image brings the divine closer, it also underscores the fact that the divine remains stubbornly invisible.

Holy Scripture itself works in a similar way, for instance, when it says, ‘And many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book’ (John 20:30 KJV). Beyond words and paintings, we are meant to conclude, lie realities that are not fully disclosed.

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