We had a lot of fun here on Museworthy a while back when I shared some of the bizarre search terms that brought visitors to this blog. Although that wackiness is still going strong, respectable inquiries still make up the majority I’m happy to say. Lately, my search terms column has been dominated by “Caravaggio” and that pleases me very much. Because Caravaggio is, well, Caravaggio – the Baroque master whose skills, technique, and commitment to “naturalism” continue to astound and inspire artists.
So I thought I’d be a good attentive blogger by responding in kind to the Caravaggio searchers and give them more of what they’re looking for. Let’s examine Caravaggio’s 1601 work Supper at Emmaus from The National Gallery in London. The painting depicts an event from the Gospel of Luke, in which two of Christ’s disciples discover that their resurrected lord had been in their dinner company unbeknownst to them, because he had taken on a “disguised” unrecognizable form. When Christ finally reveals himself to them, the moment is one of shock and disbelief. A very dramatic Biblical episode captured expertly by an artist who could do drama like no one else.
Artists who have struggled with foreshortening will no doubt marvel at what Caravaggio has done here. The gestural movements of the figures are done to perfection. The two outstretched arms are coming directly at us, and the figure on the left is pushing his elbows out as if to rise from his chair. Who needs 3D movies when we have Caravaggio’s masterful technique and visual acuity to draw us into the depth of the space. We feel like we are sitting right there at the table during the revelatory moment, or as if a camera snapped a picture and seized that one second of human reactions and gesticulations, both emotional and physical.
Also note that Caravaggio didn’t neglect the still life aspect of the scene – the meal on the table. That one basket is almost teetering over the edge. Throw in Caravaggio’s famously deft handling of light and shadow, and you have a stunningly powerful scene. For a little comparative art exercise, contrast Caravaggio’s piece with Velasquez’s version of the same story.
For more analysis of Supper at Emmaus, visit the Smarthistory video page of this work.