About two weeks ago I included Caravaggio‘s The Incredulity of Saint Thomas in a post. The painting, included below, shows Thomas investigating Christ’s wounds following the resurrection. While the encounter is mentioned in John 20, the author does not say whether or not Thomas actually took Jesus up on his offer. Jesus merely invites Thomas to touch him and Thomas responds by declaring, “My Lord and my God!”
I love this piece for a number of reasons. In the style typical to Caravaggio, the interplay between light and dark here is incredible – I particularly like the way Thomas is depicted as literally emerging from darkness into light as the reality of Christ’s resurrection is made plain to him. I also find it incredibly touching that Caravaggio depicts Christ as actually guiding Thomas’s hands to his wound, highlighting the both the intimacy and the intentionality behind his inviting Thomas to touch him.
Yesterday a professor of mine pointed me towards a modern rendition of this piece to ask what I might make of it. The piece is John Granville Gregory’s Still Doubting – and it turns out I love it about as much as the Caravaggio – for different reasons.
The scene is almost identical, though clearly the artist has chosen to depict the encounter as happening in a contemporary setting. While less pronounced, the light/dark interplay is still present – especially in the contrast between Christ’s white burial shroud – the same as in the Caravaggio – and Thomas’s black leather jacket. Christ is almost unchanged, the only real difference is that his wound is smaller, almost as if it’s now reduced to a scar rather than the fresh wound of the first Easter – as if to suggest that Christ, though constant, has healed. Time has passed, though the scars remain, and Christ has gown with us.
I love the addition of the glasses. For me they highlight both Thomas’s unwillingness to believe without seeing Christ as the others had, but also the idea that just seeing Christ isn’t enough – he needs to touch the scar, perhaps again and again, as if it still hasn’t sunk in after all these centuries. And yet Christ still patiently guides Thomas’s hand to his wound.
For me these pieces speak volumes about the nature of Christ’s willingness to stand with us – for the first time and again for the millionth if we need it. But no matter how many times we question and push back and doubt – Christ is always willing to reveal himself to us.
I could probably go on non-stop about these paintings for quite some time – but instead I’d love to hear your thoughts on them. How do they speak to you (if at all?). Which do you think has more to say for you personally? And what do we make of art that imagines the empty spaces in scripture?