The Taking of Christ by Caravaggio

4:14 PM

A little bit of history

Date: 1602
Located in the National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin.

Caravaggio’s painting is a vivid portrait of one of the first scenes of Christ’s Passion. It depicts the moment when Judas betrays Jesus by pointing Him out to the Pharisees’ soldiers with a kiss.
Saint John (the figure on the left) runs away from the scene in utter fright. Christ is motionless, sad but dignified, in the middle of an agitated, moving crowd.

This painting has a rather funny story. 

Everybody thought it was lost. 

It had actually been with the Jesuit priests in Dublin - in their dining room! - for over 60 years. They didn't have the slightest clue that it was a real Caravaggio. 

It was only discovered and recognized when the priests called a specialist from Dublin’s National Gallery to look at other paintings they had.

A little bit of technique
What attracts people to Caravaggio’s paintings is at the same time what’s make people dismiss them: his realism awes and repels. It puts us right into a scene and then makes it unbearable.

It is as if, at any moment, the crowd will proceed to our left, taking Christ away, and in a fleeting moment the canvas will be empty.

I understand the complaints that Caravaggio can lose sight of the sacred sometimes but I don't think this happens in this painting.

I like the proximity between the guard’s cruel hand in Christ’s throat, which anticipates all the brutality and violence of the Passion, and Judas’ lips, which in a gesture of love and friendship betray and deceive.

The shiny black armors also call my attention, looking strangely modern and menacing.

A little bit of enthusiasm
Easter is fast approaching and art offers so much material for meditation. This painting in particular is no exception.

For starters, it is said that the men on the right is a self-portrait of Caravaggio. Why paint himself on the scene where Christ is captured? It reminds me of Mel Gibson who is the hand that nails Christ to his Cross.

It’s no secret that despite his highly spiritual paintings, Caravaggio was a wretched bar brawler, dying at the age of 38 under mysterious circumstances. Everybody is surprised at this, but how can a man who paints with such vigor, drama and emotion not be a brawler?

And that's just the thing: our hearts are just as inconstant and paradoxical as Caravaggio’s life. They are a battle ground where we can easily lose perspective on everything. 

Look at Saint John running away. He was the disciple Jesus loved the most.

This is why I like Caravaggio’s paintings. They pull me closer. Sort of an antidote to indifference towards Christ's suffering.

Caravaggio grabs us by the collar, puts us right next to him and acts as a wakeup call, urging for a mindset proper for Easter

What do you think about Caravaggio's realistic style?

Image via Wikipedia

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  1. "An antidote to indifference toward's Christ's suffering" -- I love that (and need that).

    1. Hey Mary, good to hear from you! I guess we all need that in our lives, that's why I like Caravaggio so much. xx

  2. I know little about Italian art, but I'm always looking to learn more so I appreciated this post. I find Caravaggio quite moving; his works always gets an emotional response from me. In that respect, I suppose he is quite successful as an artist.

    1. You're exactly right, Caravaggio is very moving and emotional. I would also add that this makes his works accessible and approachable. xx

  3. I used to see this painting when I lived in Dublin. I adore Caravaggio's work, though this isn't my favourite (I really love the Conversion of Paul, the Calling of Matthew, and the two Supper at Emmaus paintings, among others), but it's still up there. I like what you've said about the vividness of his work acting as an antidote.

    1. Oh, you're so lucky! Actually, Dublin is very lucky for having a Caravaggio there, since the whole story of how the painting got there sounds so fantastic. The Conversion of Paul is also one of my favorites, I can't get enough of it. xx

  4. Thank you so much for sharing the fascinating history behind this Caravaggio and the gentle reminder of our salvation through Easter.

    I've nominated you for the no-strings-attached, no rules Your Blog is Fabulous Award.

    1. It is indeed fascinating, I love a good "discovery" story, specially when it comes to the arts.

      Thank you so much for nominating me, Angela! You're too kind ;) xx


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