VERROCCHIO, Andrea del
(b. 1435, Firenze, d. 1488, Venezia)

Christ and Doubting Thomas

Bronze, height 230 cm
Orsanmichele, Florence

The Incredulity of Thomas was commissioned by the Tribunale di Mercanzia to replace Donatello's St Louis of Toulouse (1423; Museo dell'Opera di Santa Croce, Florence) in a niche on the exterior east wall of Orsanmichele, and the choice of Verrocchio to contribute to the sculptural decoration of a building already enriched by works of the great early Renaissance sculptors suggests his growing prestige. The challenge of creating a dramatic ensemble rather than sculpting single figures of one or two of the guild's patron saints encouraged him to take an original approach.

In a composition inspired by a mosaic of the Incredulity of Thomas (c. 1200; San Marco, Venice), he placed the figure of Christ in the middle of the frame on an elevated step and that of the apostle outside and below it to the left. Such an alignment allowed him to retain the prescribed sizes of the figures without overcrowding the relatively narrow space allotted to them. More interestingly, it enabled him to stage the emotionally charged encounter between the two on a diagonal and thereby create a dynamic instead of a static picture. Compositionally and dramatically, the axis of the scene is the wound that Christ exposes with his upraised arm, on one side, and his hand, which holds open the tear in the garment, on the other. St Thomas's tentatively outstretched right hand and his intense gaze lead the spectator towards this focal-point and into the niche.

The figures form a united and balanced picture, although the figure of Christ was cast several years before that of St Thomas, which was completed only in 1483. Christ's draperies are sharper and less flowing than those of St Thomas, the facial features more elongated and the posture less graceful.