Saint Thomas, who doubted that Christ had risen from the dead, raises his finger to touch the spear wound in Christ’s side, an episode related in the Gospel of John (20: 20–29). Saint Thomas’s finger, the kneeling donor’s gaze and the parallel lines of the paving all point to Christ’s wound.
The Franciscan friar Saint Anthony of Padua presents the donor – the person who paid for the painting – to Christ. He is probably Gabriele Calderoni, an eminent lawyer from Faenza, or possibly his father Gaspare. The Incredulity of Saint Thomas was of particular interest to the legal profession since it concerned the nature of proof, the desire for truth and the virtue of mercy.
The altarpiece was made for the chapel dedicated to Saint Anthony in the church of S. Francesco in Faenza. The painting was once part of a larger ensemble including a picture showing the Virgin accepting her destiny as mother of Christ, as announced by the Angel Gabriel, the name saint of Gabriele Calderoni.
Saint Thomas raises his finger to touch the spear wound in Christ’s side, an episode known as the Incredulity of Saint Thomas, related in the Gospel of John (20: 21–29).
Saint Thomas told the other disciples that he would not believe that Christ had risen from the dead unless he touched Christ’s wounds with his own hands. When Christ appeared to Thomas, he said that ‘blessed are they that have not seen, and have believed’ (John 20: 29). The figures are situated on a paved terrace with a parapet behind it. Thomas’s finger, the kneeling donor’s gaze and the parallel lines of the paving all point to the wound in Christ’s side. Saint Anthony of Padua presents the donor to Christ.
The figures are set against a landscape of grassy slopes with rocky outcrops to the left and a steep hill crowned with a fortified building on the right. There are three figures at the top right in front of the buildings, two of them standing beside a well. Two travellers and a man with a heavily laden donkey wend their way up the hill towards them. On the left-hand side of the picture a hermit – perhaps intended to represent Saint Jerome, although he did not originally have a halo – sits at the entrance to a cave, reading a book with a Crucifix at his side. A group of hunters appears on the hill above. The horizontal format of the altarpiece is rather unusual, although Bertucci also used it for the Virgin and Child enthroned with Saints of about 1511 (now in the Pinacoteca of Faenza).
The painting was made for the church of S. Francesco in Faenza, where it originally served as an altarpiece in the chapel dedicated to Saint Anthony of Padua. On 12 May 1672 it was recorded that in the chapel to the right of the main altar was ‘a painting containing our Lord Jesus Christ with the Cross, with Saint Thomas on the right and Saint Anthony of Padua on the left and above, the most Holy [Virgin] Annunciate with ornament [meaning a frame] in relief, gilded and painted in blue.’ The record went on to say that an inscription below the altarpiece read ‘Gabriele Calderoni, son of Gaspare, doctor in both laws, had this made to fulfil his father’s bequest and out of devotion.’
The Calderoni were prominent citizens of Faenza. Gaspare Calderoni was governor of the city’s fortress, which resembles the fortified building in the painting. His son Gabriele Calderoni obtained a doctorate in both canon and civil law at the University of Padua, and was elected in 1490 as one of the chief magistrates of the city. He was appointed Palatine Count and Golden Knight and also had considerable diplomatic abilities.
The Incredulity of Saint Thomas was of particular interest to the legal profession since it concerned the nature of proof, the desire for truth and the virtue of compassion. The painting’s donor, Gabriele Calderoni, kneeling beside Saint Anthony of Padua, may have chosen the subject because he was an eminent lawyer. The greyish tone of the donor’s flesh is caused by an unusually high proportion of black pigment in the paint.
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