Caravaggio's "Flagellation of Christ"

The Flagellation of Christ (1607) by Caravaggio (Michelangelo Merisi)Museo e Real Bosco di Capodimonte

Arrival to Naples
After bursting on to the Roman art scene in 1600, Caravaggio was forced to flee the Eternal City in 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. It was during his first sojourn to Naples (1606-07) that Caravaggio painted this masterpiece for the Neapolitan church of San Domenico Maggiore.

The Scene
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. Caravaggio depicts the prelude to Christ's crucifixion, known in art as the "Flagellation of Christ."

The Roman soldier in the bottom left corner crouches as he prepares his lash.

He tightly grips a bundle of sticks with his left hand, as his right hand winds a rope to hold them in place.

The soldier to Christ's right seizes him by the hair to stabilize his target.

Having already fastened his lash, he prepares to draw blood by striking Christ's back.

The third soldier works to tie Christ's hands behind his back, binding his arms tightly with rope.

Knocking his prisoner off balance, the soldier kicks Christ's rearward leg to subdue his willing victim.

Instead of dressing the Roman soldiers in classical garb, Caravaggio depicts them in contemporary 17th century garments, catapulting the scene into the present rather than the remote past.

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 his Passion.

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. 

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 Battistello, Stanzione, Cavallino, Jusepe de Ribera and Mattia Preti - only to name a few.

Credits: Story

Curated by James P. Anno

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