Sunday, 9 December 2007

The Incredulity of Saint Thomas

Caravaggio's famous painting of Saint Thomas: it has a weird, unsettling quality to it, which I had always assumed (doubting Thomas thrusting his finger in the vaginal slit in Christ's side) had to do with its uncomfortable-looking quasi-sexual emphasis. After all, who is it that penetrates Christ's body? Only his enemies (crucifying him) and those of his disciples who doubt him; not his devout followers. And yet his followers today devour him whole--he penetrates them, not the other way around. There's something unnerving about thinking the reverse (the penetratable Christ). Which leads to a flip-about interpretation of Caravaggio's image; Thomas passsive, not active; Christ's torso, active, not passive. The strange angle of Christ's head on his body disconnects it, visually speaking; and then we're looking at one of those Bosch-y devils without heads, but with faces embedded in their chests: Christ's nipples for eyes, his wound now a hungry mouth, gobbling and devouring Thomas's hand. Thomas becomes the eucharist; Christ internalises him.

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