Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Caravaggio-The Taking of Christ-One of My Favourite Things.

I was going to write about the Caravaggio oil http://waynecolquhoun.blogspot.co.uk/2013/08/caravaggio-whats-all-fuss-about.html painting that I saw in the Irish national gallery in Dublin.
I have not been able to. I couldn't start writing, mainly because I didn't feel I could express the power of the painting that knocked the stuffing out of me, that rendered me speechless, if only for a quarter of an hour. (that may be a feat in itself)).
I didn’t think I can find those words that I need to highlight the prowess of this work.
I know we have thesaurus to pluck words from, but for me that’s not enough, I don't want to use a dictionary, and I cant find those words that are needed in simple form then I wont.
When you say something is marvellous, well we know what it means, but what happens when it is ten times better, what the bloody hell do I say then.
I don’t need to be clever in what I say, just to portray a meaning.
I don’t have a degree in English literature. Sometimes bleedin' 'ell is good enough to express the power of something that hits you, between the eyes, like a sledge hammer, that stops your breath and causes you involuntary reactions that you cant explain.

Well that's a Caravaggio all right.

I recall those series like 'Civilization' where Mr Clarke the cultured man, eloquently told me, on TV in my living room, about the great masters.

I almost believed him he was so good at it. I don't believe anyone.
You need to have seen a bit to be able to argue a way through a bluff.
Personally I don’t prescribe to Clarke’s waffling through the series especially about Henry Moore. Especially when you know he was being given sculptures by the artist on the cheap, by the sculptor he was waxing lyrical about. I think he got it wrong, and most of his work is no more than a formula.
His wartime underground paintings are rubbish. They sum up nothing other than a man with a bit more talent than most, doodling. Whiling away the hours.

People are usually up there because you are on your knees looking up at them. AA rolling stone gathers moss. One writer carries on where the previous left off, the myth grows. Who will question an art critic who is published?
I always want to question the credibility of any writer, as I find that the people who write about artists couldn’t emulsion a wall if you gave them a 10 inch wallying brush.
I once said to a lady who wanted to write about throwing a pot, “Why don’t you learn to throw one then you can write about it”.
That didn’t go down too well, she argued that you don’t have to be an artisan to understand the emotion of a craft.
I argued that you have to have a certain amount of understanding of skill to be able to talk about it, there are those that do, and those that write about doing it.
You have to have seen a decent amount of art good, bad and Henry Moore, in order to be able to differentiate from what you are being told, and what you should think, what you understand and what you may think, you may understand.

How can you understand emotion, when art bleeds if you haven’t bled yourself?

How can you understand how difficult this is to achieve if you have not got a brush out and give it a go.

Even if you get some way and fail at least you know how hard it is. There are always those who say “I cant do that” and then give up. Others that have to work at it and comes later after a lifetime of study.

And then there is Caravaggio.....genius, pure utter genius.

Its like he was born with a brush, from a womb of paint instead of placenta.
Its as if he knew how to mix it from birth, as if someone has shown him a secret way to see life. Dare I even say he was born to a holy angel who really did sprinkle something over him that nobody else has.
Something that renders all those who come after him a student and all those before arguably irrelevant.
Its not my style, most old masters are stuffy but this paint packs a punch, a Rhapsody in Black with an unbelievable rawness that allows you to have involuntary movements.
That curls your lip and makes you cry, or die, on your feet. For you know that once you have seen, and I only mean, really seen, into the depth of his imagination, nothing will ever be the same again.
I tried not to be embarrassed when I discovered The Taking Of Christ...........there were people all around. Some of them were even watching, waiting for reactions. It is right that you don’t care what anyone thinks that your involuntary spasms mean more to you, that you don’t care. Because you just cant help yourself you have been floored with an uppercut, and it was done with paint and a brush.
This is before you even look, at the picture and the detail and what it is about. This is religious and you know most of the story was made up to kid the silly plebeians that there really was a miracle from two loaves and three fishes and that some disciple didn’t sneak away get the rest of the food to feed the five thousand from a shop down the road, in the town and they sneaked the food into the party.
This sight would even convince me that there was a God and Jesus was his son, and the Jesus was betrayed by Judas....... because Caravaggio was there, and he saw it, and what’s more he took a picture of it, and then copied it down meticulously after the event, and it was just like it was.
Then your mind starts thinking how stupid that would sound if you actually said that.
So how did he get this onto a canvas from a thought, from a story?
Vag must have been so absorbed in the whole world of what he was painting that he must have been near to popping with his blood boiling. He must have been a simmering pot, a pressure cooker. What makes someone take this route? Just what did he take to pump his adrenalin through his veins and make religion believable? Even to non believers such as myself.
The subject, ah, yes the subject. He decided to make it the very moment that Jesus is betrayed as if a war photographer had raised his lens at the very time a bomb had gone off and captured an explosion, in real time.
Vag does it better, with laborious strokes of bristle. It must have taken forever to paint such is the apparent skill. The marvel is, how do you make something explode when it takes so long how can you capture a split second when it takes a year.
How can you sum up the work of a genius that makes you cry, on the spot, and not because of the story but because of the character in the faces, and the shades of reflection, from the lamp, held aloft, that makes a spot on the armour glisten, and then reflects a spot which shows you just how the lamp bounced the light around.......a painting.
I hear Hendrix in my head and then Tubular bells then Choral cantations, throw in a verse or two of some gut wrenching blues, and all the time I hear nothing.
He takes you into a world that you never knew and you are there, you troll the canvas looking for mistakes and it only captivates you more. Then after ten minutes longer you see something that he knew would take ten minutes to see, and then there is more.
When an artist makes flesh tremble it makes mine do the same. Shivers run up the back and karate chop you in the neck, making your head move. You go up close and see the brush strokes, the hand of a master with a indefatigable hand. A hand so strong and yet so delicate as to paint the white spot in the corner of a betrayed eyes, oh and a dot on a quivering hand and I am not even looking right now at a copy, I can remember the picture as if I am looking at it now.
It is singed into my memory I knew he was described by the likes of Clarke as a master but he is more that that, he is a link to another world before camera obscurer and pin hole magic happened. How can you make such raw with ground up pigment from the earth.
Eventually I got up and walked away, I don’t know if that has ever happened to me before certainly never with such intensity of soul.
All the other paintings I looked at seemed tame by comparison. I walked into room of Yeats artwork. He had become the darling of the Dublin-esque, and I laughed.
I had never seen anything that failed so miserably. To compare is not fair, a confidence trickster with a magician. I laughed out loud at the disgrace that had invaded my space. An insult to my senses. But for sure even without the controversy of his life, Caravaggio will only come along once in a century and for fifteen minutes, I met him.

The painting had been lost http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Taking_of_Christ_(Caravaggio)
 It had been hanging in the Dublin Jesuits dining room for only a few to see and was wrongly attributed as a Dutch Master it was rediscovered in the 1990's and now hangs proudly for all to see.

This is what the NGA says about it(the spelling mistakes are theirs nit mine)  http://www.nga.gov/exhibitions/caravbr-2.htm

The painting represents Jesus Christ being captured in the Garden of Gethsemane by soldiers who were led to him by one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot. Tempted by the promise of financial reward, Judas agreed to identify his master by kissing him: "The one I shall kiss is the man; seize him and lead him away safely" (Mark 14:44). Caravaggio focuses on the culminating moment of Judas’ betrayal, as he grasps Christ and delivers his treacherous kiss. Christ accepts his fate with humility, his hands clasped in a gesture of faith, while the soldiers move in to capture him. At the center of the composition, the first soldier’s cold shining armor contrasts with the vulnerability of the defenseless Christ. He offers no resistance, but gives in to his persecutors’ harsh and unjust treatment, his anguish conveyed by his furrowed brow and down-turned eyes. The image would have encouraged viewers to follow Christ’s example, to place forgiveness before revenge, and to engage in spiritual rather than physical combat. Caravaggio presents the scene as if it were a frozen moment, to which the over-crowded composition and violent gestures contribute dramatic impact. This is further intensified by the strong lighting, which focuses attention on the expressions of the foreground figures. The contrasting faces of Jesus and Judas, both placed against the blood-red drapery in the background, imbue the painting with great psychological depth. Likewise, the terrorized expression and gesture of the fleeing man, perhaps another of Christ’s disciples, convey the emotional intensity of the moment. The man carrying the lantern at the extreme right, who looks inquisitively over the soldiers’ heads, has been interpreted as a self-portrait.

On a dark dank Dublin day, the day I discovered Caravaggio, the day I came face on to a genius. 


  1. aha you have accomplished it! Your article articulates how one feels when faced with a Caravaggio. I especially enjoyed the bit in the middle of your article about "trolling the painting". Thank you

  2. Perfectly written. Thanks for this. It's exactly how I felt and still feel when looking at this piece