A painting by Caravaggio

  The Painting By Caravaggio

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                        This painting by Caravaggio is very typical as to the baroque style of art in three ways. First, it makes the viewer feel as though they were part of the event. Second, it portrays the most emotional moment of the event pictured. And finally the use of great contrast by the artist is exemplary of the time period. 

            This painting draws in the viewer both physically and emotionally. The techniques used by the artist must have been long contemplated and were obviously well orchestrated. The first two are manifested in the body language of the disciples surrounding the Lord Jesus. Both are illustrating the surprise they must have felt as they realized who the man sitting at the table was. The first is almost falling off of his seat as he lunges forward to get a better look at Christ. His arms are squared back as if he has shifted his weight forward, but not yet adjusted his hands from the position that they were in. Caravaggio chose to paint him in that split second during his jolt forward in surprise. It should also be noted that his chair is leaving the picture on both sides it touches, which gives the illusion that we as viewers are very close to the scene.  Caravaggio then paints the second apostle with his hands outstretched; one towards us and the other away, the hand coming to us looks as if we could reach out and grab it. The third way that we are brought into the picture physically is a bit more subtle. There is a bowl of fruit hanging over the table on our side, that looks as if it is about to fall out of the picture into our space, a very effective technique used by the artist.

            Emotionally we are brought into the picture by the lack of a chair placed at the table. Christ is opposite us and his disciples at either side, but there is no one occupying our side, and as if inviting us to sit, Christ’s hand is stretched out in our direction. Another way that we are emotionally invited into the scene is by the presence of the fourth person. He is probably a waiter or servant of some kind, someone who is not of an intimate relation with the other three; his simple presence reduces the formality of the situation making us feel more accepted.

            Finally, Caravaggio uses light and darkness to contrast and accent the scene. The way that he accents the figures and almost totally dispels the background is typical of baroque art. A more subtle use of contrast is noted in the expression on the disciples’ faces with that of the waiter. They are totally surprised as they realize that it is Christ in their presence, while the waiter, unaware stands by and calmly listens. Perhaps Caravaggio is asking whether or not we would recognize the Lord.


The Western World by Mary Ann Addy Maxwell

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