The Incredulity of Saint Thomas or the Rockox Triptych (or “Altarpiece”), is a triptych painting by Peter Paul Rubens(1577 – 1640), and was produced between 1613 and 1615. On either side of the triptych you can see sir Nicolaas II Rockox and his spouse Adriana Perez. This painting was originally commissioned for the Lady Chapel in the Recollects Convent in Antwerp but now sits in the Great Hall of the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, where I saw it in October.
If you can bring yourself to ignore the ‘freaky Dutch bastards’ as Dr Evil would call them, the central panel is something of a masterpiece. I went to the museum with Celia and she must have thought me quite queer because I stopped and stared at this painting for at least ten minutes. I felt like Ongo Gablogian having an epiphany.
Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it.”John 20:25
Here, three apostles, Thomas, Peter and John, are incredulous at Christ’s returning from the dead. This event is the bedrock of the Christian faith. They are looking at Christ with surprise, with Thomas wanting to verify this incredible event with empirical evidence, namely putting a finger in the wounds. The event speaks to the quality of faith, asking us whether we believe this core tenet of our faith without needing for it to be verified. I was so moved by this painting. Seeing Christ depicted with such light and looking at his doubting apostles with love in spite of their doubt electrified me. There are three reactions in this painting as I can see, shock by Thomas, interest by Peter (closest to us, presuming this is indeed Peter) and love from John in the back. I may have got the apostles in the wrong order, for which I can only apologise. Which of these three reactions would we have when confronted with this event in scripture?
I noticed at once that Jesus’ halo was missing in this painting but that a faint gold glow can see seen behind his head. The absence of a halo emphasises the corporeality of the risen Christ, that is to say that Christ is here in human form again. This was another striking aspect of the painting for me, with Rubens, who was always inspired to his work by faith, stating clearly his belief in the resurrection.
Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”John 20:29
Overall this is a work of genius which left a lasting impression on me. It tackles the founding event of the Christian faith and was profoundly moving to me. I am very much looking forward to my next trip to Amsterdam when I will be able to see it again.
“My passion comes from the heavens, not from earthly musings.” Rubens