The Taking of Christ (Caravaggio)

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The Taking of Christ
Italian: Cattura di Cristo nell' orto
Caravaggio - Taking of Christ - Dublin.jpg
Artist Caravaggio
Year c. 1602
Type oil on canvas
Dimensions 133.5 cm × 169.5 cm (52.6 in × 66.7 in)
Location National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin

The Taking of Christ (Italian: Cattura di Cristo) is a painting by the Italian Baroque master Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, originally commissioned by the Roman nobleman Ciriaco Mattei in 1602. It is housed in the National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin.

Description[edit]

There are seven figures in the painting: from left to right they are St John, Jesus, Judas, two soldiers, a man (a self-portrait of Caravaggio), and another soldier. They are standing, and only the upper three-quarters of their bodies are depicted. The figures are arrayed before a very dark background, in which the setting is disguised. The main light source is not evident in the painting but comes from the upper left. There is a lantern being held by the man at the right (Caravaggio). At the far left, a man (St John) is fleeing; his arms are raised, his mouth is open in a gasp, his cloak is flying and being snatched back by a soldier. The fleeing figure of John in his terror contrasts to the entering self-portrait of the artist, thus making the point that even a sinner one thousand years after the resurrection has a better understanding of what Christ is than does his friend four days before.[1][a] Two of the more puzzling details of the painting are, one, the fact that the heads of Jesus and St. John seem to visually meld together in the upper left corner, and, two, the fact of the prominent presence, in the very center of the canvas and in foremost plane of the picture, of the arresting officer's highly polished, metal-clad arm...

Sources[edit]

The central group, composed of Jesus, Judas and the soldier with an outstretched hand, is based upon a 1509 woodcut by Albrecht Dürer from his Small Passion series.[2]

Woodcut by Albrecht Dürer (detail)

Loss and rediscovery[edit]

By the late 18th century, the painting was thought to have disappeared, and its whereabouts remained unknown for about 200 years. In 1990, Caravaggio’s lost masterpiece was recognized in the residence of the Society of Jesus in Dublin, Ireland. The exciting rediscovery was published in November 1993.[3]

The painting had been hanging in the Dublin Jesuits’ dining room since the early 1930s but had long been considered a copy of the lost original by Gerard van Honthorst, also known as Gherardo delle Notti, one of Caravaggio’s Dutch followers. This erroneous attribution had already been made while the painting was in the possession of the Roman Mattei family, whose ancestor had originally commissioned it. In 1802, the Mattei sold it, as a work by Honthorst, to William Hamilton Nisbet, in whose home in Scotland it hung until 1921. Later in that decade, still unrecognised for what it was, the painting was sold to an Irish pediatrician, Marie Lea-Wilson, who eventually donated it in the 1930s[b] to the Jesuit Fathers in Dublin, in gratitude for their support following the shooting of her husband, Capt. Percival Lea-Wilson, a District Inspector in the Royal Irish Constabulary in Gorey, County Wexford, by the Irish Republican Army on 15 June 1920.[4][5]

The Taking of Christ remained in the Dublin Jesuits' possession for about 60 years, until it was spotted and recognised, in the early 1990s, by Sergio Benedetti, Senior Conservator of the National Gallery of Ireland, who had been asked by Father Noel Barber, S.J., to examine a number of paintings in the Leeson Street Jesuit Community (of which Barber was superior) for the purposes of restoration.[6] As layers of dirt and discoloured varnish were removed, the high technical quality of the painting was revealed, and it was tentatively identified as Caravaggio’s lost painting. Much of the credit for verifying the authenticity of this painting belongs to Francesca Cappelletti and Laura Testa, two graduate students at the University of Rome.[7] During a long period of research, they found the first recorded mention of The Taking of Christ, in an ancient and decaying account book documenting the original commission and payments to Caravaggio, in the archives of the Mattei family, kept in the cellar of a palazzo in the small town of Recanati.

The painting is on indefinite loan to the National Gallery of Ireland from the Jesuit Community, Leeson Street, Dublin, who acknowledge the kind generosity of Dr. Marie Lea-Wilson. It was displayed in the United States as the centerpiece of a 1999 exhibition entitled "Saints and Sinners" at the McMullen Museum of Art, at Boston College,[8] and at the 2006 "Rembrandt / Caravaggio" exhibition in the van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam.[9] In 2010 it was displayed from February to June at the Scuderie del Quirinale, Rome, for the 400th anniversary of Caravaggio's death.[10]

Damaged copy in Odessa

Copies[edit]

There are at least 12 known copies of this painting. The Odessa Museum of Western and Eastern Art (Ukraine) has a copy of "The Taking of Christ" believed to be an original copy made by Caravaggio himself. The painting was stolen from the museum in 2008 and found in Germany. After restoration and research Ukrainian and Russian scientists claimed it is a copy, made by Giovanni di Attili, for brothers of the original owner - Asdrubale or Ciriaco Mattei. The account books of Asdrubale record a payment of 12 scudi in 1626 for this work.

Cultural references[edit]

  • A nod was made to the finding of the "The taking of the Christ" by Caravaggio in the film Ordinary Decent Criminal starring Kevin Spacey
  • The Hands of Caravaggio, an album from 2001 by electro-acoustic improvisation group M.I.M.E.O. was inspired by the painting.
  • The painting was the subject of a special Easter program in 2009 in the BBC series The Private Life of a Masterpiece.
  • Mel Gibson said that the cinematography in The Passion of the Christ aimed to imitate Caravaggio's style. The arrest scene in the film uses similar perspective, lighting, and placement of figures as the painting at the moment the soldiers seize upon Jesus.
  • The painting was used as a candidate for an RTÉ competition looking for 'Ireland's Favourite Painting'

See also[edit]

Footnotes[edit]

  1. ^ Apesos gives a close reading of the iconography of this canvas as seen through the lens of contemporary preachers and other theological primary sources of Caravaggio's day.
  2. ^ There is no evidence to suggest 1934.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Apesos, Anthony (Winter 2010). "The Painter as Evangelist in Caravaggio's Taking of Christ". Aurora XI. 
  2. ^ Herrmann Fiore, Kristina (January 1995). "Caravaggio's 'Taking of Christ' and Dürer's Woodcut of 1509". The Burlington Magazine 137 (112): 24–27. Retrieved 25 June 2013. 
  3. ^ Benedetti, Sergio (November 1993). "Caravaggio's 'Taking of Christ', a Masterpiece Rediscovered". The Burlington Magazine 135 (1088): 731–741. Retrieved 25 June 2013. 
  4. ^ Humphrys, Mark. "Dr. Nora Stack". HumphrysFamilyTree.com. Retrieved 6 February 2009. 
  5. ^ Lowe, W. J. (2002). "The war against the R.I.C., 1919–21". Éire–Ireland – Journal of Irish Studies (Fall/Winter): footnote 71. 
  6. ^ Walsh, Elaine. "A Picture Of Mystery". irishletter.com.  For Fr. Barber's own first-person account of the events that led up to the rediscovery, see his essay, "The Murder Behind the Discovery," in Franco Mormando, ed., Saints and Sinners: Caravaggio and the Baroque Image, exhibition catalogue (Chestnut Hill, MA: McMullen Museum of Boston College, 1999), pp. 11-13.
  7. ^ "On the Trail of a Missing Caravaggio" by Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times (2 December 2005)
  8. ^ "Saints and Sinners", exhibition information.
  9. ^ Exhibition information
  10. ^ "Caravaggio, pittore superstar", Edoardo Sassi, Corriere della Sera (18 February 2010) (Italian)