Guercino’s Incredulity of St Thomas

April 10th 2021

Guercino The Incredulity of Saint Thomas 1621 Oil on canvas, 115.6 x 142.5 cm Bought, 1917 NG3216

Guercino sets the scene at night. Light falls from the right creating a pattern of highlights and shadows.   Patches of exposed brickwork are visible on the upper left and right, suggesting that this encounter takes place before a wall.  The wall behind and the half length format brings the viewer close to the action. Five figures fill the space before the viewer but the eye is drawn immediately to Christ and to his wounded side.   His exposed side is caught in the light as is the hand of St Thomas, with which he touches the wound made by the spear after Christ died on the cross.  This is the scene described in today’s gospel passage.  Jesus said to St Thomas, “Put out your hand, and place it in my side; do not be faithless, but believing.”  St Thomas answered “My Lord and my God!”  Guercino the moment when faith in the Risen Christ is about to be born in St Thomas.  The gospel does not say that St Thomas actually touched the wound or that it was such physical contact that brought about his faith in the Risen Christ.  His faith seems to come into being solely at the words of Christ: “Be not faithless but believing.”  Guercino hides the face of St Thomas in shadow, but shows us Christ’s face clearly.  We cannot miss the tenderness with which he  looks upon St Thomas.  As Christ gazes upon St Thomas, he holds back his right arm also, so that his wound is exposed for St Thomas to touch.   In his left hand,  Christ  hold the standard of the resurrection.  His firm grip suggests not only the reality of his resurrection but the steadfastness of his presence and love.  The standard divides the scene in two,  so that on the left Christ and St Peter face into the light, whereas on the right, St Thomas and two others are turned away from it.  In the language of John’s Gospel, St Thomas has not yet come to the light.  By setting this scene at night,  and by this masterful use of light and shadow,  Guercino conveys not only the drama of the moment,  but also John’s use of light as a symbol of faith in Christ.   The message is that Christ will come to those who remain in the shadows of unbelief and doubt and bestow the gift faith.  The loving gaze of Christ upon St Thomas, combined with the action of exposing his wounded side,  speaks of the love which drove him to the cross and his unfailing mercy for an unbelieving world.  

Guercino’s Incredulity of St Thomas

Edinburgh Catholic Chaplaincy

The Catholic Chaplaincy serves the students and staff of the University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh Napier University and Queen Margaret University.

The Catholic Chaplaincy is also a parish of the Archdiocese of St Andrews and Edinburgh (the Parish of St Albert the Great) and all Catholic students and staff are automatically members of this parish.

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