Gary Paul Lehmann
Unless I Feel the Wound
In his studio in Rome,
Caravaggio arranges four male models
in order to paint the
pure astonishment of St. Thomas as he probes for his faith.
In the final canvas, only
heads and shoulders appear.
Belief must inhabit the
upper reaches of the human anatomy.
"Unless I feel the wound,
I will not believe," says Thomas.
In the painting,
Caravaggio sketches Thomas with his finger extended.
His face is contorted as
he thrusts his stubby digit into the open wound.
disquiets the mind with its bluntness.
There is no blood. The
brow of Thomas is lifted, furrowing his whole face.
Leaning slightly forward,
Thomas bears the burden of all mankind.
He concentrates on that
finger, that wound. His ears rise up like some primitive animal.
His eyes narrow, and yet
he needs to peer ever more intently, because he cannot see it.
The face of Jesus is in
shadow, but His one hand draws back the shroud to reveal his wound,
while his other hand
guides Thomas' finger to the place. "Let me guide you," he says.
Somewhere in this scene
of all-too-venal curiosity, there is majesty, purity, even dignity,
but does Thomas ever
confirm his faith, exploring around inside a dead man's ribcage?
Caravaggio gives Thomas
the benefit of a patient Jesus who condescends to his need for certainty.
Jesus says, "reach hither
thy hand and thrust it into my side; and be not faithless, but
As he wipes his fingers
of the sticky pus, Thomas looks into the dead eyes of the risen
"Why have you let me do
this thing?" he wonders. Jesus can be excused for not replying
as he is dead.