Behind the Painting: Caravaggio’s ‘The Taking of Christ’

Behind the Painting: Caravaggio’s ‘The Taking of Christ’


One of the most popular pictures in the Gallery is Caravaggio’s ‘The Taking of Christ’ it’s also one of the most beautiful and precious as well Originally only costing only 125 scudi when it was painted in 1602, it was in a notable Roman collection and we can trace its history right to Dublin You have to imagine this also hung in a palace behind a curtain and it would be revealed, and this would add to the drama It’s one of the most celebrated stories of the Passion Christ arrested in the Garden, soldiers coming in And perfectly suited to the temperament of Caravaggio who liked drama, and would pose his models in the various positions thinking out the whole composition, literally, with the figures in front of him and making various changes that you can actually still see in the painted surface. Apart from his drama, there is the beauty – the wonderful surface colouring, and he is one of the very few artists who can take something as mundane as a piece of armour and give it a sheen and finish that makes it an interesting surface to look at. It also includes himself. This is very much a feature of his paintings. He liked to almost associate himself with the action And symbolically, he is the one who reveals what is going on with this rather strange Chinese lantern which throws a very unreal light, if you try to analyse it. This is in keeping with the whole picture which is very much put together with the figures in a frieze not without reference to earlier precedence. It seems very natural, but he had been looking carefully at classical antiquities, and also great artists like Durer, who had treated this as an engraving in the past. But Caravaggio goes beyond them. He sort of cuts the figures off and what makes it particularly relevant today in our age of the camera is that he almost sees it like something that is being filmed taking place. It can have very much contemporary relevance as well – One unexpected comment received from a visitor was that he could respond very easily to the painting because he could feel how the figure was being arrested by the “secret police” and all his friends were deserting him. In fact, rather an apt parallel for what’s happening in the picture itself. Today it is on longterm loan to the Gallery from the Jesuit order in Dublin and is part of a collection of paintings that show the influence of Caravaggio so it is very much at home here.

4 Comments

  • David Wood Painting and Plein Air says:

    I don't mean any offence by this…but wouldn't it have been best to record these episodes outside of public hours…the noise beyond the commentator is soooo distracting and unnecessary. Just a bit of artistic critique 😉

  • nationalgalleryie says:

    Hi David, I know, it's not ideal, apologies for the poor sound quality! Hopefully the next time we'll be able to choose a quieter period to record in when there aren't so many visitors around. Thanks for watching and taking the time to comment! We always appreciate artistic critique!

  • Emily Carroll says:

    Really helpful for leaving cert art revision 👍

  • getnasty08 says:

    I fell in love with this painting in secondary school when I saw it in a history book. I used to flip to that page when bored in class and stare at it for a long time. Time moved on and life got busy and I forgot about the painting. I never really thought to look online when the internet became so widely available to see where it was based, I always assumed somewhere in continental Europe. Then one way I was walking through the National Gallery and I couldn't believe it – THERE IT WAS. Right in front of me. I moved to Dublin aged 17 and walked by the National Gallery every day for 7 years before one day stumbling upon it. Needless to say I stood starting at it for a long long time. I'm not even that big into art, but this painting just struck me the day I saw it in my book aged 12/13. And to think all the while it was based in a museum only 50 miles from my secondary school! Crazy, huh?

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