August 24, 2014

SEALED WITH A KISS:

Confrontation Amid the Shadows : Caravaggio forces us to bear witness in 'The Taking of Christ' (WILLARD SPIEGELMAN, Aug. 24, 2014, WSJ)

The 1602 oil, which measures approximately 53 inches by 67 inches, depicts the moment of Christ's betrayal by Judas and his capture by Roman soldiers. It may be the darkest and densest, the most oppressively claustrophobic of all of Caravaggio's paintings. Caravaggio (1571-1610, born Michelangelo Merisi, named for his native village) was the master, if not the actual inventor, of chiaroscuro, that penumbral, dramatic mingling of light and darkness that made him famous. He spawned countless followers and imitators throughout the 17th century. Then his reputation declined, to be revived two centuries later. Many art historians have called him the father of the baroque. Rubens would certainly have been a different painter without his example.

In "The Taking of Christ," Caravaggio has created a work almost entirely oscuro. What little clear (chiara) light there is, coming from the left and repeated by a lantern on the picture's right side, can hardly compete with the utter darkness that overwhelms the action and the characters. Any textbook or postcard reproduction of the picture has much more color than the original: Nothing prepares you for a confrontation with the work itself.

The moment dramatized in the painting derives from the Gospel of Mark, (14:44): "Whomsoever I shall kiss, that same is he; take him, and lead him away safely." In an act of treachery compounded with eroticism, Judas has just handed Jesus over to the Roman centurions. We do not see the actors in this drama straight on. No one looks out at us directly; everyone is cast in partial light or rendered in profile. The fact of almost unrelieved darkness produces tragedy, mystery and foreboding. It also suggests the universality of the event. There is no garden, no background, no setting, just the action, a snapshot caught at the moment, with neither preparation nor aftermath. What we see, Caravaggio suggests, might occur anywhere. Theologically, everyone betrays Jesus.
Posted by at August 24, 2014 7:08 PM
  
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