The taking of Christ by Caravaggio was painted in 1602 for the Roman Marquis Ciriato Mattei, a family of immense wealth.
It is considered as one the darkest and densest work produced by Caravaggio. The work which now hangs in the National Gallery of Ireland not only depicts mystery, but the work itself has mystery attached to it.
It had gone missing for almost two decades before being rediscovered. The taking of Christ painting had hang in the Jesuit’s dining room and was perceived as a copy, rather than the original.
It was only after the Jesuit Fathers in Dublin asked for the services of Sergio Benedetti to look into some of their pieces to establish which ones needed restoration that the painting was discovered to be the original one done by Caravaggio himself.
The oil painting measuring 53 inches by 63 inches, shows the moment Judas betrayed Christ and his capture by Roman soldiers. It is reminiscent of Caravaggio’s signature style of using chiaroscuro, a technique which he invented and employed in most of his masterworks.
Caravaggio renders all the subjects in this masterpiece in profile or casts them in partial light, with no subject looking directly to the audience. The painting only depicts the action and there is no visible background.
It has seven figures; with John the Evangelist dramatically lifting his hands in shock as he faces away from the action. Christ seems resigned to the fate that awaits him and he is looking down clasping his hands, a show of humility amidst his impending detention and subsequent crucifixion. Judas seems to have already kissed him and he is now gripping him with his left hand.
The dark armoured Roman officer arresting Jesus is heavily dressed in a metal attire and we can only see his nose and an outline of his upper lip. Although we can see the nose and moustache of the next officer, we do not get to see his eyes. The same goes for the other officer whom we can only make out an outline.
The painting has a mysterious figure who is holding a lantern and looking intently at the action happening before him. The moon and his lantern seem to be the source of illumination for the scene.
It is not known whether he is a Jew or Roman. However, a theory has been proposed that it was a self-portrait of Caravaggio himself. That is unconfirmed, but would mark a similar flourish to Las Meninas by Diego Velazquez.
Theory has it that since the other subjects are participating in the action while John is looking away from it, Caravaggio chooses to depict a man whom is confronting what the others are running from by witnessing it and also providing some illumination for the scene.
Tom Gurney in an art history expert. He received a BSc (Hons) degree from Salford University, UK, and has also studied famous artists and art movements for over 20 years. Tom has also published a number of books related to art history and continues to contribute to a number of different art websites. You can read more on Tom Gurney here.