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The Orsanmichele, and 'Doubting Thomas', Florence

Updated: Jun 7, 2023

Of all the renowned statues in Florence, especially those of the High Renaissance, by famed artists we all know, like Leonardo, Donatello, and Michelangelo the work which moves me the most is the late Gothic/early Renaissance statue in a niche of the Orsanmichele, by Verrocchio, Da Vinci's teacher. It depicts the risen Christ, opening his wound to a doubting apostle, Thomas.




In Book Three, Long Way Home. Lidia's journal entry on her thoughts about this piece sum-up my own response.

Excerpt:

I like this city of stone, even though its hard edifices and roads are man-made, it's very different from home in its energy and resonance, from the asphalt, chrome, glass, steel, and concrete that bears no resemblance in its built form to its primal, elemental source. A city of stone, hand hewn, retains the life-force of the earth in which it was formed and the spirit of the hands that raised it up and shaped it to their purpose.

But there is also the bronze and marble that really is alive; here in Florence we walk everyday among the giants of myth, and religion. The saints and martyrs look down upon our deeds and seem to penetrate our deepest thoughts. I feel it strongly every time I walk around the Orsanmichele; Donatello’s St. Mark, to me is especially formidable and disapproving. Stern, with his sacred gospel, unwavering in his evangelical belief.

In contrast, the artist’s baby-faced, clean-shaven St. George looks but a boy, too young to do a man’s job, but determined, nonetheless, to be a brave soldier, even though it's apparent from his knitted brow, that he worries if he can. So unlike Michelangelo’s arrogant, giant David in the Piazza della Signoria, so self-assured, unconcerned, he strikes a vulnerable posture, sporting his manhood, openly, casually. He peers into the distance in annoyance, impatient for the chance to strut his stuff and vanquish the enemy.

Back to the Orsanmichele - of all the saints depicted there, Verrocchio’s St. Thomas and the risen Christ is my favorite. Antonio seemed to respond to it too, when I held him up for a closer look, he pointed and babbled, then listened intently, sucking his fingers, while I talked about it. I find it compelling, perhaps it’s because St. Thomas seems to be stepping from our secular world into the sacred realm of Christ, enclosed in his niche.

St. Thomas is unsure of what he thinks, even hopes may be truth, does he really believe in the miracle of resurrection? So, Christ allows him a reassuring touch into his open wound. He doesn’t admonish Thomas for his lack of faith, like St. Mark, or even the terrifying Moses would, Christ simply accepts Thomas’ human failing and gives him what he needs to go on believing. We all fail and need reassurance to go on, acting on what we hope is truth in our life’s journey, to continue believing, even in ourselves.

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