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Joy of Museums

Museums, Art Galleries and Historical Sites

“Supper at Emmaus” by Caravaggio

"Supper at Emmaus" by Caravaggio

“Supper at Emmaus” by Caravaggio (The National Gallery, London)

“Supper at Emmaus” by Caravaggio depicts the moment when the resurrected Jesus reveals himself to two of his surprised disciples, only to soon vanish from their sight, as told in the Gospel of Luke 24: 30–31. One of the disciples, Cleopas, wears the scallop shell of a pilgrim on his clothing. The other apostle, presumed to be Luke, wears the green torn coat. The standing waiter appears oblivious to the unexpected event that is taking place.

This event, according to the Gospel, took place in the town of Emmaus. Luke reports that Jesus appeared, after his death and resurrection, before two of his disciples while they were walking on the road to Emmaus. Its geographical identification is not clear, several locations having been suggested throughout history, all we know about the town is that it is on the road connecting it with Jerusalem.

According to the Gospel, Jesus appeared to them “in another form,” which may explain why Caravaggio depicted a beardless Jesus in this painting. In depicting Jesus interrupting an ordinary meal, is Caravaggio suggesting that perhaps Jesus, could be an unseen part of our daily activities or encounters? This painting depicts life-sized figures with a dark and blank background, and the table layout is a still-life meal with the basket of fruit dangling over the edge. Does the basket teeter on the edge of the table symbolize that an assumed life could be interrupted at any time?

Supper at Emmaus

  • Title:                Supper at Emmaus
  • Artist:              Caravaggio
  • Year:                1601
  • Medium:         Oil on canvas
  • Dimensions:    Height: 141 cm (55.5 in); Width: 196.2 cm (77.2 in)
  • Museum:        The National Gallery, London

The National Gallery painting can be compared with a later version at the Brera Art Gallery of the same subject.

“Supper at Emmaus” by Caravaggio (Brera Art Gallery)

Supper at Emmaus" by Caravaggio (Brera Art Gallery)

“Supper at Emmaus”

by Caravaggio

This version of “Supper at Emmaus” by Caravaggio, on the right, is Cleopas and the other apostle, presumed to be Luke, is turned away from the viewer, and his expression is not visible. The standing innkeeper and wife appear oblivious to the unexpected event that is taking place. In depicting Jesus interrupting an everyday meal, Caravaggio is suggesting that Jesus is an unseen part of our daily activities and encounters. This painting depicts life-sized figures with a dark and blank background, and the table layout is a basic still-life meal.

The painting can be compared with an earlier version at the National Gallery, London of the same subject. In this version, which is held by the Brera Art Gallery, the expansive gestures are more understated and natural, the shadows are darkened, and the colors are more muted, although still saturated. The effect is to emphasize the presence of Jesus more than drama. In this latter version, there is a fluidity in the handling of the paint, which was to increase in Caravaggio’s work after he left Rome, as his brushwork became increasingly calligraphic. Neither the innkeeper or his wife are mentioned in the Gospel of Luke 24:28-32. The extras had been introduced by Renaissance painters to act as a foil to the amazement of the two disciples as they recognize the resurrected Christ.

Supper at Emmaus

  • Title:               Supper at Emmaus
  • Artist:             Caravaggio
  • Year:               1606
  • Medium:         Oil on canvas
  • Dimensions:   Height: 141 cm (55.5 ″); Width: 175 cm (68.8 ″)
  • Museum:        Brera Art Gallery, Pinacoteca di Brera

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

Explore the Brera Art Gallery

Explore Museums in Milan

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Reflections

  • Does this painting symbolize that daily routine could be interrupted at any time?
  • Is the crux of this painting, that the spiritual can be an unseen part of our daily life?
  • What is the message in this painting?
  • Which version do you like better?

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“I am always learning.” 
– Caravaggio

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Photo Credit: 1) Caravaggio [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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