Verrocchio’s Christ and St. Thomas (1467-83)

St. Thomas was the apostle who, on seeing the resurrected Christ after the Crucifixion, would not believe it really was Jesus until he had touched his wound. Failing to take Christ at his word or believe the evidence of his own eyes, he has ever after been known as Doubting Thomas. Yet although stigmatized by Church dogma as the saint who failed to believe, Thomas to my mind gives us a positive example of someone who refused to accept the initial evidence of his own eyes. You should too. 

Everyone agrees that Verrocchio's life-size bronze depiction of Christ and St. Thomas breaks new ground. In placing the doubting apostle outside the sculpture's niche on the exterior wall of a guild hall in Florence, Verrocchio introduced a dynamic sense of movement to sculpture for the first time since antiquity. Pointing and facing into the niche, Thomas broke the mold. Mid-twentieth art scholarship celebrated that innovation as an end in itself, as one more step in the development of European art towards the Baroque's Hollywood illusion.

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Captions for image(s) above:

Verrocchio, Christ and St. Thomas (1467-83) Bronze. Orsanmichele, Florence

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Christ, though, is Western art's iconic subject, a symbol of our humanity and of the goodness in each of our souls. Verrocchio (meaning "True Eye", a name adopted from an early master) places Christ on a plinth which you can see at left even without the niche. Christ is thus "a sculpture". Thomas, meanwhile, steps towards the niche while facing his "sculpture of Christ" like an artist. Verrocchio is "Thomas". He steps from a corner outside the "frame", his finger searching for that open wound in Christ's side. The bloody gash is probably a metaphor for the molten metal that must be poured into a hole in "Christ's mold" like life-giving blood. Indeed it really does make the sculptures come alive.

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Verrocchio's Christ and St. Thomas less the niche.

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The idea, of course, is not new, just newly expressed for a different age. One hundred and fifty years earlier, Duccio di Buoninsegna painted the same scene with Christ in front of a niche just large enough for the Lord. Duccio is, in effect, "painting" Christ while dipping his finger into the wound like a brush into paint. Blood makes Duccio's painting come alive. It is understood, even perhaps by those who know little about art, that Christ will then stand in the niche "Duccio as Thomas" designed him for.

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Captions for image(s) above:

Duccio, Incredulity of Thomas, back crowning panel of The Maesta Altarpiece (1308-11) Tempera on wood panel. Museo dell'Opera del Duomo, Siena

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Touch and the pointing finger, as explained elsewhere, is a perennial symbol for the craft of making art itself, for painting, drawing, modelling, carving etc. Indeed whenever you see St Thomas and his doubting finger in a work by a visual poet St. Thomas is the "artist-craftsman" and Christ, a representation of the artist's own soul, is his divine "work of art." Thomas and Christ are in two different realities but, however real the external world may seem, it is not the true one. For that you must enter the inner world where you will see your inmost Self which is, at first sight paradoxically, the one we all share and that christians call "Christ". It is what makes us human.

Captions for image(s) above:

Verrocchio, Christ and St. Thomas (1467-83)

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More Works by Verrocchio

Notes:

Original Publication Date on EPPH: 12 Oct 2012. © Simon Abrahams. Articles on this site are the copyright of Simon Abrahams. To use copyrighted material in print or other media for purposes beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner. Websites may link to this page without permission (please do) but may not reproduce the material on their own site without crediting Simon Abrahams and EPPH.