Hallelujah! Seeing Caravaggio’s masterpiece through Helena’s eyes

This is Part IV of Helena’s brilliant exposition of Caravaggio’s masterpiece, The Taking of Christ. Part I was her Introduction. In Parts II and III she looked – for purposes of comparison – at Giotto’s treatment of the same theme. And now here, in Part IV, we’re with Helena and Caravaggio and the painting – with, to be sure, Christ and Judas and John and the three soldiers and the lantern bearer.

Every single observation/remark she, Helena, makes is telling – each of them is, as it were, the art criticism equivalent of one of the artist’s brushstrokes. Or, in the case of “the lantern bearer”, a good few brushstrokes, brushstrokes that painted, as we learn from Helena, a self-portrait of Caravaggion. Yes, that’s right, he put himself into the painting. An exemplar that, of her whole talk: it’s revelatory, satisfying, astonishing. Every step of the way.

These past four weeks – these “seminars” Helena’s served up on Caravaggio’s (and Giotto’s) masterpiece(s) – have been far and away the best art history/appreciation/criticism “course” I’ve ever “taken” (and I’m a grizzled old veteran of art history courses – I have supped at many of them).

And, as always, my standing recommendation when Helena “guides” us into and through an art masterpiece: open another window and bring up “an internet reproduction” of the painting so you can see it as you see it with Helena’s eyes. Here’s a link to the one I used. And since she also makes quite a few references to Giotto’s painting of the same subject, here’s a link to the earlier artist’s painting.


“it’s like a play being performed on a somewhat remote stage”

“Caravaggio makes it up close and personal”

“not just spectating but participating”

“darkness and yet more darkness”

“the difference of background”

“a darkness that makes the figures project even more forcefully out into our space”

“the lantern bearer is a self-portrait of the artist”

“Caravaggio uses darkness as a very clever editing tool”

“the two most striking features of the painting”

“the link between darkness and spirituality is particularly important in this painting”

“the darkness implies that something sinister, something evil is taking place”

“Caravaggio knew all too well what it was like to be pursued by the authorities”

“Caravaggio was invariably guilty of the charges brought against him”

“darkness could be a criminal’s best friend”

“the people in his paintings have nowhere to go but forward”

“that is why the people in Caravaggio’s paintings have such an uncanny sense of presence and realism about them”

“we’re so close we can see our reflection in the shining armour of the soldier”

“we’re that close, uncomfortably close”

“we’re just as much implicated in the guilt of their actions”

“whoever stands in front of this painting is equally implicated in this crime”

“Caravaggio drives home the argument with much greater force”

“the red cloak provides a frame”

“it’s as though they’re glued together”

“the billowing cloak provides Christ with a halo – a halo of blood”

“no other artist has achieved the same degree of psychological depth”

“his eyes are downcast”

“intense pain and profound sorrow”

“look closely at his hands – they’re thrust forward in a gesture of resignation and restraint”

“a more subtle and nuanced interpretation”

“the most psychologically complex study of Judas’ character in the history of art”

“his face is a picture of guilt, remorse, fear and self loathing”

“he’s looking beyond Christ, staring wildly into space like a man tormented by the irreversible nature of his actions”


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