Sculptures at Orsanmichele Church
Sculptures at Orsanmichele Church
Among all the sculptures exhibited at the Orsanmichele Church in Florence, Italy, the one that impressed me the most was Andrea del Verrochio’s sculpture, Christ and Saint Thomas. The sculpture, which is mainly composed of bronze, is placed at the central niche on the Orsanmichelle’s east facade. At first glance, possibly the most remarkable aspect about Verrochio’s sculpture is the fact that among all the other niche sculptures, it is the only with an implied narrative. In other words, among all the sculptures Christ and Saint Thomas was the only one that visibly told a story.
Moreover, another fascinating aspect about Verrochio’s work is that it is also the only niche sculpture along with the Four Crowned Martry Saints of Nanni di Banco that featured more than one figure. Furthermore, the sculpture is cleverly designed. In order to make room for two figures in the niche, Verrochio designed the sculpture with no backs and as hollow bronze shells. Furthermore, in order to emphasize the ranking difference between the two figures, he placed them on different levels. St. Thomas is situated on the niche’ ledge while Jesus Christ, being the higher authority, is placed higher than him.
Another interesting part about Christ and Saint Thomas is that it vividly illustrates the significant moment in the bible, specifically at John chapter 20, verse 24-29, which is more popularly known as the story of the Doubting Thomas or the Incredulity of St. Thomas. In this story, Thomas was informed by his fellow disciples that they have seen Jesus Christ in the flesh. However, Thomas said that he will not believe them unless he sees with his own eyes the marks of nail wounds on Christ’s hands and unless he places his hand on the wound on the left side of his master.
When Jesus Christ subsequently appeared before all the disciples, Thomas saw the wounds on his master’s hands and placed his own hand on Christ’s side, which is more or less depicted in the sculpture of Verrochio. Moreover, the fascinating aspects about the positioning of Christ and St. Thomas are its several implications. As mentioned above, Thomas is standing on the ledge of the niche while Christ is standing higher than him. This depiction possibly shows that since Thomas initially doubted the resurrection of Christ, he is then placed on a ledge of uncertainty.
However, his doubts are cleared when he touches Christ’s wound on the side and, as depicted by the sculpture, Jesus raises his hands over Thomas as if to bless him. The amazing aspect about this depiction is that it greatly accentuated the dramatic complexity of the two biblical figures while at the same time highlighted a highly significant even in the history of the Catholic Church. In addition, the impressive design and quality of the two figures also add to the emotional depth of Christ and Saint Thomas.
Although the faces of both St. Thomas and Jesus Christ appear serene and calm, their robes and drapery further increase the intensity of the drama depicted by the two. The folds of Jesus Christ robes are somewhat unruffled and heavy, which possibly indicates his greatness and splendor. On the other hand, the folds on Thomas’ robes are small and significant wrinkled, which possibly indicate his tension and stress for doubting Jesus. In short, the cleverness of Verrochio is shown even in the minutest details of his work.
His use of imagery and the contradiction between them have magnified the meanings of the sculpture in more ways than one. This, I believe, is one of the most impressive aspects about his work and generally says a lot about his style in sculpting and art. However, for me, possibly the most fascinating and most impressive aspect of the Christ and Saint Thomas is its holy status rather than its artistic elegance. While it may be true that Verrochio’s sculpture is a magnificent work of art in itself, it also gives off a majestic and more or less magical aura.
The position of Christ’s right hand, which is raised, makes it appear that everyone who passes and gazes upon the statue is blessed. Moreover, the presence of Thomas also enables people to associate with him. Like Thomas, who is an ordinary human being at that time, there will be times that people will doubt the existence of Jesus Christ. However, once Jesus has shown people the proof of his existence, which, in this case is his wounds, they will be blessed by removing all their doubts and believing in him.
The statue of Christ is a classic example of a freestanding man who is holy and possibly ready to perform miracles. In other words, Verrochio greatly captured the true essence of the Incredulity of Saint Thomas through his sculpture and made it appear more realistic. The detailed depiction of Christ’s wounds was possibly meant to show that he is real and that there should be no doubts about him. And the figure of St. Thomas touching those wounds enables people to view a holy scene that is highly significant at least in the history of the Catholic Church.
It can then be deduced that Verrochio himself can make miracles using art. He sculpted not only the majestic robes and serene face of Jesus Christ, but also his divine presence. In a sense, he takes a holy scene from the bible and fleshes it out for everyone to witness and appreciate as if it is happening in reality. For me, this is the best part about Verrochio’s work. Not only does it show excellent artistry and style, but possibly his feelings and emotions. Over-all Christ and Saint Thomas is a product of faith, grace, and talent combined and molded in the bronze of a highly-gifted artist such as Verrochio.
University/College: University of California
Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter
Date: 13 January 2017
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