Taking of Christ in the Garden

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  • Oil on Canvas: 1598
  • 133,5 x 169,5 cm
  • National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin

This is a remarkable treatment of the familiar story of betrayal. Judas Iscariot, one of the twelve Apostles, agrees to lead soldiers of the High Priest to arrest Jesus. He will identify the man by kissing him.

In this picture, he main figures of Jesus and Judas are pushed to the left, so that the right-hand half of the picture is left to the soldiers, whose suits of armor absorb what little light there is, and whose faces are the most part hidden. At the right of the picture, an unhelmeted head emerges from the surrounding darkness. This is often regarded as the artist's self-portrait. Caravaggio has also concerned himself here with the act of seeing as one of a painter's task. The three men on the right are there mainly to intensify the visual core of the painting, underscored by the lantern.

On the left, the tactile aspect is not forgotten. Judas vigorously embraces his master, whilst a heavily mailed arm reaches above him towards Christ's throat. Christ, however, crosses his hands, which he holds out well in front of him, whilst St John flees shrieking into the deep night. His red cloak is torn from his shoulder. As it flaps open it binds the faces of Christ and Judas together&emdash;a deliberate touch on the artist's part.

This painting was known only by copies until the original was discovered in a Jesuit rectory in Ireland. It was brought to Boston College for its first American showing several years ago.

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