Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, (1571 – 1610)
The Taking of Christ
Oil on canvas, c. 1602
133.5 cm × 169.5 cm (52.6 in × 66.7 in)
National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin, Ireland
The Taking of Christ is a painting by the Italian Baroque master Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (c. 1602). It is housed in the National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin.
There are seven figures in the painting, from left to right: St John, Jesus, Judas, two soldiers, a man and a soldier. They are standing, and only the upper three-quarters of their bodies are depicted. The figures are arrayed before a very dark background, in which the setting is disguised. The main light source is not evident in the painting but comes from the upper left. There is a lantern being held by the man at the right. At the far left, a man is fleeing; his arms are raised, his mouth is open in a gasp, his cloak is flying and being snatched back by a soldier. This man has been identified as St John. The man holding the lantern is Caravaggio's self-portrait.
By the late 18th century, the painting was thought to have disappeared, and its abouts remained unknown for about 200 years. In 1990, Caravaggio’s lost masterpiece was recognized in the residence of the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits) in Dublin, Ireland. The exciting rediscovery was published in 1993.
The painting had been hanging in the Dublin Jesuits’ dining room since the early 1930s but had long been considered a copy of the lost original by Gerard van Honthorst, also known as Gherardo della Notte, one of Caravaggio’s Dutch followers. This erroneous attribution had been made while the painting was in the possession of the Roman Mattei family, whose ancestors had originally commissioned it. In 1802, the Mattei sold it, as a work by Honthorst, to William Hamilton Nisbet, in whose home in Scotland it hung until 1921. Later in that decade, the painting was sold to an Irish pediatrician, Marie Lea-Wilson, who eventually donated it in 1934 to the Jesuit Fathers in Dublin, in gratitude for their support following the killing of her husband, Capt. Percival Lea-Wilson, a District Inspector in the Royal Irish Constabulary in Gorey, Co. Wexford, by the Irish Republican Army on 15 June 1920.
The Taking of Christ remained in the Dublin Jesuits' possession for about 60 years, until it was spotted and recognised as at least an old copy of a Caravaggio, in the early 1990s, by Sergio Benedetti, Senior Conservator of the National Gallery of Ireland, while he was visiting the Jesuit Fathers in order to examine a number of paintings for the purposes of restoration. As layers of dirt and discoloured varnish were removed, the high technical quality of the painting was revealed, and it was tentatively identified as Caravaggio’s lost painting.
The painting is on permanent loan to the National Gallery of Ireland and was also displayed in the United States as the centerpiece of a 1999 exhibition entitled "Saints and Sinners" at the McMullen Museum of Art at Boston College and also at the 2006 Rembrandt Caravaggio exhibition in the van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam.
Much of the credit for verifying the authenticity of this painting belongs to Francesca Cappelletti and Laura Testa, two graduate students at the University of Rome. During a long period of research, they found the first recorded mention of The Taking of Christ, in an ancient and decaying account book documenting the original commission and payments to Caravaggio, in the archives of the Mattei family, kept in the cellar of a palazzo in the small town of Recanati.