In The Incredulity of St. Thomas, Caravaggio portrays in rather grotesque detail the scene of John 20: 24-29, where Thomas proclaims that he will not believe in Christ’s resurrection unless he feels the wounds himself. In this portrayal we see Jesus guiding Thomas’s hand deep into his wound, with two onlookers studying the event from behind. Jesus appears completely calm and unaffected by the inspection, while Thomas’s face holds wrinkles of concentration and awe. The placement of four heads united in the center of the painting is a classical depiction of the search for truth, and the search here ends in the detailed inspection of the body of Christ. The black background provides further illustration of this discovering of truth, with the four men illuminated from the darkness by the light which appears to emanate from Jesus. The scene is at once shocking and complex; the extreme familiarity with which Thomas’s finger digs into Jesus’ wound is startling, but it simultaneously reveals an aspect of spiritual discovery. Thomas here gains knowledge of God through a personal examination of Christ, and the physicality of it reveals a very real and tangent search for truth. Thomas’s inspection of the wound is very much of this world, but the result of that inspection is a knowledge which is entirely spiritual. We find this scene shocking because it seems so realistic, and the realism is a means of showing how an ordinary person can discover spiritual truth through worldly interactions. Here Thomas literally pulls the skin of Jesus back to understand Him as God, but Caravaggio demonstrates through this that physical encounters with the world can provide a spiritual knowledge, and that in searching and finding knowledge of God the truth transcends the person from the physical world to the spiritual one.
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