Supper at Emmaus

Caravaggio painted the Supper at Emmaus in 1601 early on in his period of artistic popularity. This beginning to the seventeenth century marked another change in art. After a century of mannerism being the dominant style, artists like Caravaggio were returning to natural real figures. Instead of exaggerated contorted poses of muscular men and women, Caravaggio shows figures that are living, dirty fingernails and all.


Caravaggio’s Supper at Emmaus shows a scene from the gospel of Luke 24 where the Resurrected Christ appears to two disciples. He first appears as a traveling man on a journey to the town of Emmaus, not recognized as Christ. It is only at dinner when he breaks bread that the disciples recognize him as Christ. It is not, however, from his appearance that the disciples recognize him. Christ has no beard, and his flowing robes cover any indications of the wounds he suffered during the crucifixion. Instead, he is recognized from a gesture – his raised arm blessing the bread.

At the center of the painting is the Resurrected Christ blessing the bread. To his left is a disciple; his arms outstretched in disbelief. Standing next to Christ is the innkeeper, unaware of the significance of the gesture. On the opposite end of the table, closest to the viewer is another disciple pushing back in his chair. It is Caravaggio’s figures that truly show his talent and contribution to the history if art. Before him, compositions were made up of figures posed, frozen, and static. Supper at Emmaus by Caravaggio is an example of the new style showing figures in a moment of time. Christ has just raised his arms to bless the food. At this motion, the two disciples are instantly aware of whom this traveling man is. They react quickly with disbelief standing and pushing their chair out flailing their arms. The innkeeper looks on unfazed by the gesture and confused by the commotion. All three of these figures show real emotion. Caravaggio paints pictures more like theater than history.

The Supper at Emmaus

These figures are far from the idealized images seen in the past. The disciples have rough hands showing signs of wear and life. Their faces are wrinkled showing age. The man standing has clothes tearing and with holes. The innkeeper has his sleeves rolled up and a face unshaven. These are real people with real lives and real signs of hard work.

On the table is their dinner; bread, fowl, and a basket of fruit. All of these items on the table, theses still lifes, provide symbolism in Supper at Emmaus. Often painters, Caravaggio included, paint a still life into their art to show their talent and mastery of natural subjects. In this painting, the still lifes represent aspects of Christ. The bread that he blesses is flesh. The fowl on the plate is mirroring death. The basket of fruit, placed on the edge of the table almost falling over, shows life, resurrection, and rebirth. The grapes in the bowl go with the bread. While bread is his flesh, grapes make wine a symbol of Christ’s blood. The bowl containing the fruit sits on the edge of the table, almost falling, almost asking the viewer to reach out and push it back on the table. This playfulness is characteristic of Caravaggio well aware of his status as “the most famous painter in Rome.” It has also been said that the shadow created by the fruit basket is that of a fish, another symbol of Christ.

This Supper at Emmaus shows everything that has become known as Caravaggioesque. The strong light with dark shadows has become Caravaggio’s legacy, but his influence goes far beyond that. He made art personable. He took biblical figures, long gone and distant, and brought them close, familiar and human.

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