The Taking of Christ

The Taking of Christ by Caravaggio has a history seemingly taken from the dreams of an Art Historian. In 1602 the Mattei family, a wealthy and powerful family from Rome, commissioned Caravaggio to paint three paintings. By 1779 Caravaggio’s painting had been wrongly reattributed to another artist. It was then sold, and with time, became “The Lost Caravaggio.”


From descriptions of the Mattei collection it was known that Caravaggio had painted The Taking of Christ, but it was not known where its current location was.  The Mattei family had a painting that was attributed to a Dutch artist Honthorst as a copy of the Caravaggio. After centuries of sales, gifts, and inheritance, the painting ended up in the collection of the Irish Jesuit Fathers of the house of St. Ignatius in Dublin. After the painting was cleaned, it became apparent that it was done with skill and talent that could only be found in a master painter like Caravaggio.

Close examinations showed tell tale signs that he was the real painter of the work. For Art Historians seeing a change in composition, where there has been repainting done, indicates the original painting. If an artist is copying a painting they would not need to change anything. Another indication that this is the original by Caravaggio is the use of the back of the paintbrush to outline or highlight parts – a technique used by the artist.

The painting is typical of Caravaggio’s style; bright highlights, dark sharp shadows, and a black background. There are seven figures depicting the moment that Jesus was betrayed by Judas and taken by the roman soldiers.  On the far left is St. John, his face wretched with anguish as Jesus is taken into custody. Immediately next to John, their heads touching, is Jesus. Jesus’s expression is in direct contrast to that of St. John. Where St. John is filled with emotion and shock, Jesus is at peace, aware of his fate. Jesus is being held by Judas, who lunges at him to point him out to the guards by kissing his cheek. The right half of the painting is comprised of four figures clustered together, including one man holding a lantern, which is a self-portrait of the artist.

Like many of Caravaggio’s paintings, The Taking of Christ shows his use of chiaroscuro, and taken to the extreme tenebrism, the sharp contrast between light and dark with little gradation. The light is coming from the left, from a light source that cannot be seen. The large number of figures in the painting shows the turmoil of the event, where those close to Jesus were taken by surprise. The scene shows a fraction of a second when Judas has just kissed Jesus and everyone else is reacting.

This lost masterpiece is one of the finest examples of Caravaggio’s style that defined the baroque era and would influence other artists creating a style caravaggioesque.

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