The Taking of Christ, Caravaggio

Caravaggio (Michelangelo Merisi), ‘The Taking of Christ’, 1602.

Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (Italian, 1571-1610)

The Taking of Christ, 1602

Oil on canvas, 133.5 x 169.5 cm
On indefinite loan to the National Gallery of Ireland from the Jesuit Community, Leeson St., Dublin who acknowledge the kind generosity of the late Dr. Marie Lea-Wilson, 1992

Throughout history, very few artists have caused as radical a change in pictorial perceptions as Caravaggio. From the moment his talent was discovered, he swiftly became the most famous painter of his time in Italy, as well as a source of inspiration for hundreds of followers throughout Europe.

The Taking of Christ was painted by Caravaggio for the Roman Marquis Ciriaco Mattei at the end of 1602, when he was at the height of his fame. Breaking with the past, the artist offered a new visual rendering of the narrative of the Gospels, reducing the space around the three-quarter-length figures and avoiding any description of the setting. All emphasis is directed on the action perpetrated by Judas and the Temple guards on an overwhelmed Jesus, who offers no resistance to his destiny. The fleeing disciple in disarray on the left is St John the Evangelist. Only the moon lights the scene: although the man at the far side is holding a lantern, it is in reality an ineffective source. In that man's features Caravaggio portrayed himself, at the age of thirty one, as a passive spectator of the divine tragedy.

PLEASE NOTE: This painting is not currently on display, as it is part of the exhibition Beyond Caravaggio, which is now open at the National Gallery, London. The exhibition opens here in February 2017. 

Further Resources

Podcast Listen to a podcast of writer John Banville discussing this painting with Professor Emeritus Ciaran Benson as part of the Lines of Vision series of talks on 16 October 2014.

View all writers View a selection of Italian Paintings

In the media Researching Caravaggio at the National Gallery of Ireland