Plaque with the Incredulity of Thomas

Thomas crouches gingerly as he approaches Christ, pointing to the holy wound, but not quite daring to touch it.  According to the Gospel of John, Thomas had been absent for the first resurrection appearance.  At this, the second appearance, Christ enters the room despite the prominent closed doors (described by the inscription, "The doors having been closed.", John 20:26) and invites Thomas to examine the wound in his side that vouches for his identity.  Similar compositions are known from manuscripts and mosaics, but what is remarkable in this version is that Christ does not pull at his tunic.  Instead, the garment appears to divide under its own power, forming a circular frame, and presenting it for Thomas' and the viewer's inspection.   

There are ivory plaques in the same style and of comparable dimensions in Berlin, London, and Houston depicting the Nativity, Raising of Lazarus, and Koimesis (Dormition of the Virgin) respectively.  Together with the Thomas icon and eight others, these plaques might have been set into a large wooden frame comprising an icon of the twelve great liturgical feasts.  In this cycle, the image of Thomas would have fallen between the Resurrection and the Pentecost, substituting for the more common Ascension, as it does, for example, in the mosaics of the monastery Church of Hosios Loukas near Delphi.   

Certain elements, such as the swags draped between the door and the wall, seem to derive from miniatures in manuscripts, suggesting that the ivory carver relied on painted models.  The handling of the figures' draperies and the near-three-dimensional carving of the figures, on the other hand, attest to the artisan's skill at turning painted motifs effectively into relief. 

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The Byzantine Legacy
Created by David Hendrix Copyright 2016