Caravaggio: A masterpiece revealed

Newspaper clipping from November 1993 with headline: Lovers of art left speechless.
Courtesy The Irish Times. Photographer: Joe St Leger

On 16 November 1993, in front of 2,000 guests, Caravaggio’s The Taking of Christ, was unveiled at the National Gallery of Ireland.

Excited crowds

The atmosphere was festival-like, with Robert O'Byrne reporting in The Irish Times that there were 'mob scenes unwitnessed in the capital since the Beatles visited Dublin' 30 years before. 

Sir Denis Mahon, the great Baroque scholar who had been a key figure in supporting the authentication, delivered a speech, as did Michael D Higgins, T.D., then Minister for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht. However, it was reported that the excited crowd almost drowned out the officiating guests' words.

Caravaggio: the Master Revealed

The painting was the centre-piece of the new exhibition Caravaggio: the Master Revealed, which was displayed in Room 23 of the Gallery. The viewing experience was described by Paul O'Kane, writing in The Irish Times (19 November 1993):

"The Taking of Christ hangs directly in front of you, sucking up the available light like a black hole.

The lighting gives the room a church-like air. People talk reverentially in hushed voices, their gesticulations slow and deliberate. At any one time, two-thirds of those present crowd in front of the blue rope which leaves an empty semi-circle between the faithful and the painting they have come to witness." 

A national treasure

By 31 January 1994, over 120,000 visitors had visited the Gallery to see the painting. The Jesuit Community, Leeson Street, placed the painting on indefinite loan to the Gallery, acknowledging the generosity of Dr Marie Lea-Wilson, who had presented the picture to them. Now regarded as a national treasure, Caravaggio's painting remains one of the must-see attractions for visitors to the National Gallery of Ireland.

Visitors to Beyond Caravaggio in front of the Taking of Christ. © National Gallery of Ireland.
A visitor to Beyond Caravaggio examines a painting. © National Gallery of Ireland.

Caravaggio continues to inspire new generations

This video (below) of fifth-class students from St Mary's National School, Haddington Road, Dublin, is a perfect example of how the painting continues to captivate and inspire. It records a collaborative project between the Gallery's Education Department, the Abbey Theatre, the students and their teacher. The project took place during the Beyond Caravaggio exhibition held in the Gallery in 2017.

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