Thursday, July 31, 2008

Stolen Art Watch, Caravaggio Theft, Second Version or on Loan From Ireland ???


The Taking of Christ (Caravaggio)

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.

Some art historians believe that the man holding the lantern is a self-portrait of Caravaggio himself.

By the late 18th century, the painting was thought to have disappeared, and its whereabouts 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 who eventually donated it to the Jesuit Fathers in Dublin, in gratitude for their support following the death of her husband.

The Taking of Christ remained in the Dublin Jesuits' possession for about 60 years, until it was spotted and recognised, 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 other 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 long-term loan to the National Gallery of Ireland and was also displayed 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.

A nod was made to the finding of the "The taking of the Christ" by Caravaggio in the film "Ordinary Decent Criminal" starring Kevin Spacey


Art Hostage comments:

A wonderful story, but if true, then what was stolen in Odessa, a second version, this version on loan from Ireland??

Sorry, but is this whole thing a hoax, anyone speak Russian ??

3 comments:

Fiona said...

I too am absolutely confused by this theft. Like yourself, I know Caravaggio's Taking of Christ to be held at the National Gallery of Ireland. This fact is confirmed by their own website. I find it odd that the gallery would allow one the most prized paintings in their collection travel, especially to some obscure museum in Russia. The Odessa Museum of Western and Oriental Art offers no clues at all. And the media has made no mention of it being part of a touring exhibition. This is very odd indeed.

Anonymous said...

A look at a story that just appeared in the publicaton YKPAIHA MOLODA (Young Ukraine) provides the history of this painting. Supposedly it was purchased in France by the Russian ambassador to Paris in the mid 1800's, then donated to Prince Vladimir Olaksandrovich in 1870 from whom it was donted to a gallery in Odessa which was the forerunner of the current Gallery of Eastern and Western Art there. Supposedly experts from Moscow authnticated the painting in the 1950's.

CathyL said...

Read "The Lost Painting", by Jonathan Harr. It has the whole story.