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We approach unannounced amidst a scene of immense brutality. Three assailants lurking in the shadows circle about the central figure of Christ who is emblazoned within a brilliant vertical shaft of light. Christ, with his hands bound behind him, shines forth from the abyss like a pale moon in the dark night sky. “By his wounds we are healed,” speaks the Prophet Isaiah (Isa. 53:5). Already crowned with thorns, Christ stumbles towards us in exhaustion. We are witnessing Christ’s Passion.

After bursting onto the Roman art scene in 1600 with sensational altarpieces for the Roman churches of San Luigi dei Francese and Santa Maria del Popolo, Caravaggio was forced to flee the Eternal City in the spring of 1606. His explosive temper had gotten the best of him, culminating in murder by the sword. Outlawed, the artist fled to Naples under the protection of the Colonna Family, executing several masterpieces including The Seven Works of Mercy (1606-07) still present in the church of Pio Monte della Misericordia, Naples. It was during his first sojourn to Naples, terminating in July 1607 that Caravaggio painted the Flagellation of Christ for the Neapolitan church of San Domenico Maggiore – the same church that displayed Titian’s Annunciation (1557), now also exhibited at Capodimonte. The Flagellation entered Capodimonte in 1972 for reasons of conservation and security.


Caravaggio’s revolutionary style had a profound impact on European art, and his influence was particularly felt in Naples, as the painter made a second sojourn to the city between 1609-10. His dynamic canvases exhibit a strong contrast of light and shadow known as chiaroscuro, accentuating the drama of his scenes. Through his striking manipulation of light, the painter focuses on particular details that accentuate his extreme fidelity to naturalistic rendering.


The legacy of Caravaggio’s striking style, granting devotional immediacy and gritty realism to his subjects, can be seen at Capodimonte in the works of Carlo Sellitto, Battistello, Filippo Vitale, Jusepe de Ribera and Mattia Preti – only to name a few. A brilliant new era of Neapolitan naturalism was therefore initiated, producing in its wake a series of unparalleled master painters of the Baroque period who elevated the drama of Neapolitan genius to incomparable heights.

Details

  • Title: The Flagellation of Christ
  • Creator: Caravaggio (Michelangelo Merisi)
  • Date Created: 1607
  • Medium: oil on canvas

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