Director Emeritus Grant Holcomb speaks about this object.
For me, there are few Apostles more appealing than Thomas. He was a man who questioned things and was never given over to easy answers. He wanted proof, or, as I remember from the television show “Dragnet,” “just the facts!” Today, we use the term “Doubting Thomas” to define this most human characteristic. And many Christians celebrate the Day of Saint Thomas, which is the winter solstice—the longest night of the year… for Thomas was the Apostle who remained in the dark the longest!
We read in the Gospel of John the familiar story. Thomas had not been with the other Apostles when they saw the risen Christ. They tell him of this astounding event and his answer forever marks him with the name “Doubting Thomas.” He Said: “Unless I see the mark of the nails in the hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails, and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”
A week later Christ appeared and, as we see in this late 12th century sculpture, Thomas, incredulous, kneels, places his hand in the wound and, according to the Bible, exclaims “My Lord and my God!”
The sculpture contains six full-length figures though the focus is on the left hand side where Christ pulls aside his tunic to reveal the wound to Thomas. Christ is the dominant figure in the composition and, indeed, the only animated one. His inclined position with left leg moving across the right leg, his outstretched right arm, his broad shoulders, his flowing hair and open mouth all convey a vitality and a dominance not seen in the other, more static, figures. Yet the convergence of Thomas’ long pointing finger with the fresh red wound of Christ is the dramatic moment rendered. The clarity of the original color, the flowing robes, and the wonderfully wide- eyed expression of the figures, only add to the liveliness of the work.
Equally animating is the story of the acquisition of the work when it was offered at auction in 1949. How Isabel Herdle, the Gallery’s assistant director, placed her raincoat over the sculpture hoping to hide the work from other potential bidders. She was so intent on having it in Rochester that she even sat on it to keep interested parties away. Finally, the director of the Wadsworth Athenaeum in Hartford, Connecticut, who had been observing Isabel but was interested in bidding on a silver processional cross, said “We’ll stay off your capital, if you stay off our cross!” Thus the way some keen works of art enter public collections!
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