The composition is a cropping taken from The Incredulity of St. Thomas by Caravaggio. A significant piece in art history for technical reasons alone due to Caravaggio’s groundbreaking use of chiaroscuro to obtain a level of realism never before captured in oil painting. Also, for the first time the Messiah as well as the saints were depicted not as celestial, haloed, floating depictions of the ideal human but as real people. And they were.
Caravaggio was a thug of his day. Hanging around the back alley taverns of 17th century Rome rounding up members of his posse as well as the drunks and disorderlies to model for his church commissions. Once in his studio, a single point of light was established and the men were arranged and made to keep still until the work was completed. He did not sketch or create figure studies. He just painted. By his level of accuracy essentially what you are viewing in a Caravaggio painting is the closest thing one could get to a photograph in that time.
In the Incredulity of St. Thomas the light comes from behind Christ and lands poignantly upon the furrowed brow of doubting Thomas as he physically witnesses to the risen Lord. Christ holds his wrist as if he had taken it and inserted it for him. We saught to highlight this moment by simply capturing Thomas’ expression and the graceful and purposeful leading grasp of Christ. Perhaps the most provoking element of the piece is that Christ’s chest has been replaced with window blinds turning Christ’s garment into a sort of drapery. The finger is no longer probing the spear wound but pushing down the blinds allowing him a peak into the everlasting. The blinds are painted in such a way that the positive and negative space could almost be interpreted as indecipherable but are nonetheless apparent.
Our Thomas, though he is undoubtedly effected by what he has seen, has not experienced the truth. Though he peers through the window, he still remains in an illusion of safety which shrouds his unbelief. He is fearfully crouched in the threshold, which is composed of Christ. He is looking for Christ as a means to an end rather than accepting that Christ is the means, the beginning, and the end.
Some may not appreciate this piece for its “deviation” from the original and the abstraction of the physical representation of Christ. I can assure you that the original was treated much more disdainfully, in light of how humanly Christ was portrayed.
No symmetry. No halo. No divine illumination. And Thomas’s dirty finger.