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“The Taking of Christ” by Caravaggio

"The Taking of Christ" by Caravaggio

“The Taking of Christ”

by Caravaggio

“The Taking of Christ” by Caravaggio depicts the arrest of Jesus just as Judas kisses Jesus to identify him for the soldiers. There are seven figures in the painting; they are John, Jesus, Judas, three soldiers and a man holding a lantern to the scene. The figures are portrayed before a very dark background. The man at the right holding a lantern is believed to be a self-portrait of Caravaggio. At the far left, St John is fleeing as a soldier is grabbing his cloak.

The Italian Baroque master Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio would have had many influences for the composition of this masterpiece. One of these influences may have been a 1509 woodcut by Albrecht Dürer in which the central group is comprised of Jesus, Judas and the soldier with an outstretched hand, resembling this version of Caravaggio’s “The Taking of Christ.” This story from the New Testament was in high demand as a painting, as there are at least 12 known actual copies of this painting.  At least one is believed to be an original copy made by Caravaggio.

By the late 18th century, this original painting was thought to have disappeared, and its whereabouts remained unknown for about 200 years. In 1990, this lost masterpiece was recognised and discovered in the residence of the Society of Jesus in Dublin, Ireland. The painting had passed down through many owners but had long been considered a copy of the lost original by the various owners. After experts were asked to examine it for restoration and the layers of dirt and discoloured varnish were removed, the technical quality of the painting was revealed, and it was eventually identified as Caravaggio’s lost painting.

The painting is on indefinite loan to the National Gallery of Ireland from the Jesuit Community, Leeson Street, Dublin.

Caravaggio

Caravaggio was active in Rome, Naples, Malta, and Sicily from the early 1590s to 1610. His paintings combine the realistic observation of the physical and emotional human situation with the dramatic use of lighting. He made the technique of darkening shadows and transfixing subjects in bright shafts of light his dominant stylistic element.  His influence on the new Baroque style that emerged from Mannerism was profound. In the 20th century, interest in his work revived and his importance to the development of Western art has been elevated.

Caravaggio Insights

  • Caravaggio is a small town near Milan where Caravaggio was born, around 1571, and from where he took his nickname.
  • Caravaggio became an orphan at age 11. The bubonic plague killed most of his family.
  • Caravaggio was an essential pioneer of the chiaroscuro technique.
  • Almost all of his works portray a single light source, illuminating the action.
  • Caravaggio had a violent temper which often got him into fights.
  • Caravaggio liked to include himself in his works.
  • Caravaggio was fiercely competitive and scathing of his artistic rivals.
  • In 1606 he fled Rome after he killed a man in a brawl.
  • Caravaggio had a death warrant issued for him by the Pope.
  • He died in 1610, aged 38.
  • Caravaggio left behind no letters, but from court records, we have many details of his offences.
  • In 2010, scientists found remains believed to be Caravaggio’s.
  • His remains contained high levels of lead, and it is speculated that lead poisoning caused both the painter’s erratic behaviour and his death.
  • Caravaggio was never famous in his lifetime; however, many who saw his work realised that they embodied something amazingly new.
  • Caravaggio’s style spread rapidly throughout Europe, after his death.

Exploring Caravaggio

Reflections

  • What do you read into the actions of Christ’s hands in this painting?
  • The man holding the lantern is a self-portrait of Caravaggio. What role has he given himself?
  • Is Caravaggio the master of extraordinary realism?

The Taking of Christ

  • Title:                The Taking of Christ
  • Italian Title:     Presa di Cristo nell’orto or Cattura di Cristo
  • Artist:              Caravaggio
  • Created:          1602
  • Medium:         oil on canvas
  • Periods:           Baroque
  • Dimensions:   133.5 cm × 169.5 cm (52.6 in × 66.7 in)
  • Museum:         National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin

Caravaggio

Explore the National Gallery of Ireland

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“Art is never finished, only abandoned.”
– Leonardo da Vinci

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Photo Credit 1) Caravaggio [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons 2) Albrecht Dürer [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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