2 October 2009


I was very excited to read in my inbox, today, Elizabeth Lev's piece on zenit, here. She writes about one of my favourite pieces of art: Caravaggio's 'Taking of Christ'. It is on loan from the Jesuits and hangs at the National Gallery in Dublin. A must-see when visiting that fine city. Elizabeth retells the dramatic story of it's discovery after being lost for so long. The wonderful way she describes Caravaggio's marvelous use of art to portray the treachery of Judas on that fateful night long ago is very good. Do read the report in full, but here are a few snippets:

The work was painted by Caravaggio around 1601-3, the years when he lived in the home of his powerful patron Ciriaco Mattei. He had just completed his major religious commissions at Santa Maria del Popolo and San Luigi dei Francesi, unveiling his revolutionary technique of using light and shadow to enhance the drama of his sacred stories.

Caravaggio was still flaunting his extraordinary skill at still life painting, apparent in the metal armor of the soldiers, the rich blue wool of Christ’s robe and the opaque paper of the lantern. But the dazzling virtuosity of his brush pales before his narrative power.

From the right, three soldiers crowd roughly toward Christ, with a figure at the end holding aloft a lamp to illuminate the scene. The absolute center of the painting however, remains empty, heads and arms leaving a large gap at the very focal point of the work.

This brief caesura heightens the tension of the left-hand part of the work. Judas, his face distorted, leans toward Christ to bestow his kiss of betrayal. The contrast between Christ and Judas could not be greater. Cheek to cheek with Jesus, Judas thrusts himself forward, actively perpetrating this ultimate treachery. Christ on the other hand, with downcast eyes and hands still clasped in prayer, expresses both the profound sadness at Judas’ act as well as the acceptance of his passion. On the far left, St. John runs away, and his red robe, grasped by the soldier forms a scarlet curtain around Jesus and Judas.

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