Supper at Emmaus, 1606
Caravaggio (Michelangelo Merisi) - Oil on canvas - cm 141 x 175
Caravaggio painted the Supper at Emmaus between 1605 and 1606, probably painted on the Colonna estate in Paliano where he sought refuge after fleeing Rome for slaying Ranuccio Tomassoni, before his final flight from the city after being found guilty of murder. He managed to sell it, through the good offices of Ottavio Costi, to Marquis Patrizi and it was still in that aristocratic family’s palazzo in Rome in 1939, when it was purchased for the Pinacoteca by the Associazione Amici di Brera.
Thus its attribution is confirmed not only by its provenance, but also by reflectographic and X-ray examination which has identified a different initial version beneath it, thus proving that it is not a copy.
The depiction of the table with a carpet draped over it is a typical device of Caravaggio’s, found also in the first version of this subject which the artist had tackled earlier in a picture now in the National Gallery in London. Compared to the earlier version, this painting displays a greater intimacy and a plainer palette combined with a dramatic, almost theatrical treatment of light, underscoring the sacred nature of the moment.
LABELS BY FAMOUS AUTHORS
“Caravaggio, Lombard rockstar, swaggering swordside through the Roman underworld, picking fights, running whores, high on wine and whirìte lead? No. The true savagery of his genius is remorseless virtuosity. Not huge shadows, not grubby models. The revolution is light. For the first time, he made paint perform the tricks our eyes do. Sheer illusion, shattering luminosity, real as never before. We are quantum voyagers. We are modern. Here then – the most ordinary of miracles.”
“Caravaggio captured the moment when Christ is revealed; the briefest moment, a mere flicker. […] This picture is a stretch; almost a blasphemy: forcing Jesus to remain visible forever, while He, in Emmaus, did not want to show up for more than an instant, and only in the eyes of two of them, those who were able to recognize how he blessed the bread, while the others were not able to figure out who was the guy sitting in front of them, with his strange manoeuvres in front of a bun.”
“Down through the ages walking on the Emmaus Road, we struggle with overwhelming catastrophes. Millions dead. The stranger who joins us says the signs are everywhere but in today’s xenophobia we do not see. We pause for nourishment. Suddenly scales fall from our eyes. Unbelievable! Hallelujah! We are all in the picture. The light of philoxenia – the love of strangers – an antidote to xenophobia triumphs and shines mercifully on all, those who do and who do not recognize the signs.”