The Incredulity of Saint Thomas (After Caravaggio)
Oil on linen
30 x 40″
I started this demo piece when I was teaching Oil Painting a couple of years back. I’d love to finish it one day! For now it hangs in our downstairs bathroom where I wash my brushes, and has lots of reminders in it about technique.
“The Incredulity of Saint Thomas was painted in the early years of Caravaggio’s residence and success in Rome (1602) It is housed in the Sanssouci Picture Gallery, Potsdam, Germany. In this painting, Caravaggio depicts Thomas the Apostle’s doubting of Jesus’ resurrection as told in the Gospel of John, with Thomas looking at—and feeling—Jesus’ wounds.
This particular scene has been popularly recreated in art since the 6th century through a traditional stretching on to Caravaggio; it has since become symbolic of the conflict between Protestant and Catholic art as both traditions hold differing views of its value in teaching blind faith.
Both Rembrandt and Rubens also painted this particular episode in the 17th century. As with many of Caravaggio’s paintings, The Incredulity of Saint Thomas is swamped in theatrical darkness, bringing to life the central figures of Jesus and his apostles as if lit upon a stage. The absence of the usual halo around Jesus’ head is meant to emphasise the corporeal nature of Christ on earth. This painting has, unlike some of Caravaggio’s works, survived the Second World War when held in the Prussian royal collection.
By 1600, Caravaggio had gained considerable renown for his painting style and was commissioned by the Contarelli Chapel in the Church of St. Louis of the French (San Luigi dei Francesi) in Rome. Caravaggio delivered the Martyrdom of Saint Matthew and Calling of Saint Matthew to the Contrarelli Chapel in 1600.
The two paintings have since become a major tourist attraction. However, because of Caravaggio realism in painting heavenly themes, his paintings created a sensation in Rome as both dramatic and divisive. Caravaggio’s chiaroscuro technique was polarising to contemporary Catholic critics with some considering it vulgar.
Religious paintings had up to this point mostly been drawn from idealised imaginings of biblical and Godly themes. By contrast, Caravaggio used life models to render his work realistic, drawing the heavens down to earth and into nature.
Given the originality of this approach, Caravaggio was an instant success on the art scene; he went on to secure numerous high-profile and prestigious commissions for other religious works. However, Caravaggio was not without his own personal controversy; he was known to drink, to fight and brawl, eventually fleeing Rome for Naples in 1606 after murdering a young man, Ranuccio Tomassoni. “