Title: The Taking of Christ
Date: 1602
Medium: Oil on canvas
135.5 x 169.5 cm
Credit Line: 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
Object Number: L.14702
DescriptionThroughout history, 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 the source of inspiration for hundreds of followers throughout Europe.

The Taking of Christ was painted for the Roman Marquis Ciriaco Mattei at the end of 1602, when the artist was at the height of his fame. Breaking with the past, Caravaggio 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, with the exception of a single olive branch. Judas has identified Jesus with a kiss and the temple guards move in to seize him; the expression of disturbed acceptance on his face one of the most moving details. The fleeing disciple in disarray on the left is Saint 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, aged 31, as an observer of events, a device he frequently used in his paintings. Numerous pentimenti (changes made to the composition during painting), now visible due to the increasing transparency of the paint layer over time, are a reminder of the artist’s unconventional way of posing live models and altering details as he worked.

Thought to be lost for many decades, the painting was rediscovered hanging in the dining room of the Jesuit House on Leeson Street in 1990, having been mistakenly attributed to Gerrit Van Honthorst, a follower of Caravaggio.
ProvenancePainted for Marchese Ciriaco Mattei, Rome, 1602 (for 125 scudi) and by descent at Palazzo Mattei; sold by Duca Giuseppe Mattei to William Hamilton Nisbet, 27 January 1802; by descent at Biel House, near Edinburgh, to Mrs Mary Georgiana Constance Nisbet Hamilton Ogilvy (d.1920); Dowell’s, Edinburgh, 25 June 1921, lot 30, bought by John Kent Richardson (alias Kemp) for 8 guineas; Dowell’s, Edinburgh, 3 May 1922, lot 480, bought by The Hon. Major Charles Noel for 5 guineas; bought by Dr Marie Lea-Wilson at unknown date; presented by her to the Jesuit House of Study, 35, Leeson Street, Dublin, c.1930; placed on indefinite loan to the National Gallery of Ireland, 1993, from the Jesuit Community, Leeson Street, Dublin, who acknowledge the generosity of Dr Marie Lea-Wilson. L.14702.
Exhibition HistoryDublin’s Caravaggio, The National Gallery, London, 1 February – 26 March 1994

Caravaggio’s the Taking of Christ: Saints and Sinners in Baroque Paintings, McMullen Museum of Art, Boston College, 1 February – 24 May 1999; National Gallery of Art, Washington, 30 May – 18 July 1999

Caravaggio, Annibale Carracci & Rubens: The Birth of the Baroque in Rome, Royal Academy of Arts, London, 20 January – 16 April 2001

The Taking of Christ, Museo Diocesano, Milan, 15 October 2004 – 9 January 2005

Rembrandt-Caravaggio, Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam, 25 February – 16 June 2006

Caravaggio, Scuderie del Quirinale, Rome, 20 February – 13 June 2010

Lines of Vision: Irish Writers and the National Gallery of Ireland, National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin, 8 October 2014 – 12 April 2015

Beyond Caravaggio, National Gallery, London, 12 October 2016 - 15 January 2017; National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin,11 February - 14 May 2017; National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh, 17 June - 24 September 2018
Label TextCaravaggio painted this extraordinary work for the Roman Marquis Ciriaco Mattei in 1602. Offering a new visual approach to the biblical narrative, Caravaggio placed the figures close to the picture plane and used a strong light-and-dark contrast, giving the scene an extraordinary sense of drama. Judas has identified Christ with a kiss, as the temple guards move in to seize Him. Thought to be lost for many years, the painting was rediscovered at the Jesuit House on Leeson Street, Dublin, in 1990.

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