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.
24 Now Thomas, one of the twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the print of the nails, and place my finger in the mark of the nails, and place my hand in his side, I will not believe.”
26 Eight days later, his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. The doors were shut, but Jesus came and stood among them, and said, “Peace be with you.” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side; do not be faithless, but believing.” 28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.”
30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; 31 but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in his name.