Central to the theme of Isaiah 53 is the expiatory power of the servant’s tribulations. We read, ‘But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that made us whole, and with his stripes we are healed’ (v.5). This verse goes to the heart of Christian interpretations in which the servant is read as Christ. It is given a potent yet simple visual representation, crossing from the Old Testament to the New, in Anish Kapoor’s The Healing of St Thomas.
As part of an installation for the church of Saint Peter, Cologne, Kapoor hung a red cloth, about a square metre and a half in size, beneath the holy water stoup. It had what appeared to be a small diagonal slit, but on closer inspection was in fact a little pouch or pocket that signified a stylized open wound. The hanging cloth had the look of a Mandylion or Veronica—a cloth or veil miraculously imprinted with the image of Christ—but one reduced to the metonym of a single gash, a kind of visual shorthand for the healing power of Christ’s wounds.
In a previous incarnation of this work a slit was made directly into a gallery wall, but for Saint Peter’s Kapoor felt this would imply too literal a response to the building (Kapoor 1997: 39)—figuratively alluding to the church building as the body of Christ—whereas, in Christian dogmatics, the ‘church’ (as body of Christ) is the people. Instead, a red cloth was chosen as the bearer of the wound, becoming a ‘site of spiritual and visual doubt’ (Kapoor 1998: 38). As the lesson of Saint Thomas teaches us, it is by way of doubt that revelation and redemption may be found, just as (with Isaiah 53 in mind) it is via piacular rites—rites of atonement—that healing comes.
Kapoor, Anish. 1997. Anish Kapoor (Köln: Kunst-Station Sankt Peter)
———. 1998. Anish Kapoor (London and Berkeley: Hayward Gallery and University of Chicago Press)
53Who has believed what we have heard?
And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
2For he grew up before him like a young plant,
and like a root out of dry ground;
he had no form or comeliness that we should look at him,
and no beauty that we should desire him.
3He was despised and rejected by men;
a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief;
and as one from whom men hide their faces
he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
4Surely he has borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God, and afflicted.
5But he was wounded for our transgressions,
he was bruised for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that made us whole,
and with his stripes we are healed.
6All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned every one to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.
7He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
yet he opened not his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
and like a sheep that before its shearers is dumb,
so he opened not his mouth.
8By oppression and judgment he was taken away;
and as for his generation, who considered
that he was cut off out of the land of the living,
stricken for the transgression of my people?
9And they made his grave with the wicked
and with a rich man in his death,
although he had done no violence,
and there was no deceit in his mouth.
10Yet it was the will of the Lord to bruise him;
he has put him to grief;
when he makes himself an offering for sin,
he shall see his offspring, he shall prolong his days;
the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand;
11he shall see the fruit of the travail of his soul and be satisfied;
by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant,
make many to be accounted righteous;
and he shall bear their iniquities.
12Therefore I will divide him a portion with the great,
and he shall divide the spoil with the strong;
because he poured out his soul to death,
and was numbered with the transgressors;
yet he bore the sin of many,
and made intercession for the transgressors.