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The Supper of Emmaus by Caravaggio: A Formal Analysis of the Painting and a Discussion of Caravaggio's Artistic Techniques - Research Paper Example

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The Supper at Emmaus (1601), which today hangs in the National Gallery in London, is perhaps one of the greatest paintings in the world and is the masterpiece of Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (1571-1610)…
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The Supper of Emmaus by Caravaggio: A Formal Analysis of the Painting and a Discussion of Caravaggios Artistic Techniques
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The Supper of Emmaus by Caravaggio: A Formal Analysis of the Painting and a Discussion of Caravaggio's Artistic Techniques

Download file to see previous pages... Caravaggio had a strong inclination towards “realism”, which we may define as an attempt to imitate the natural appearance of things through the medium of paint on canvas. Caravaggio said that a good painter “knows how to paint well and imitate natural things well” (Oxford Art Online) and said he did not need to copy ancient art because “Nature had sufficiently provided him with Masters” (Venturi 28). The Supper at Emmaus is remarkable for its “realism” and is at the same time a work of great formal complexity. It is also wonderful for its bold contrast of light and shadow (called “chiaroscuro”) and its harmony of colours. These artistic features are not an end in themselves. They are all designed to aid Caravaggio’s presentation of his subject – the resurrected Christ, still with us in our daily lives – as the rest of this paper will seek to prove. The Supper at Emmaus illustrates a story from the Gospels. After his Crucifixion, the resurrected Christ appeared to two of his disciples who were walking on the highway. He fell into conversation with them but they did not recognize him until, later that day, the three of them sat down to dine at an inn. Christ broke the bread in his old familiar way, the disciples now realized who it was, and he then “vanished from their sight.” Surprisingly, The Supper at Emmaus was not intended to hang in a church. It was commissioned by a rich layman, Ciriaco Mattei, for his private collection and was later bought by Cardinal Scipione, also for a collection (Wilson-Smith 70). Although not hanging in a church, Caravaggio’s painting would have served as a focus for private devotion. Even today, reproductions of the picture can sometimes be found displayed in a place of honor in people’s homes and in churches. The formal composition of the painting consists of four figures grouped round a table, which is laden with food and drink. The heads of the three seated figures – Christ and the two disciples – form a triangle, with Christ’s head as the top of the triangle. This neat arrangement would, on its own, have been too harmonious for such a dramatic subject, and so Caravaggio deliberately breaks this pattern by introducing a fourth, standing figure – the innkeeper – to add a note of drama to the painting. The innkeeper also adds a new element to the composition, since three of the heads – the innkeeper, Christ, and the disciple on the right – form a bold diagonal line across the painting. This diagonal of heads echoes the direction of the light, which falls diagonally from an unseen window on the left. The strong contrasts of light and shadow add their own touch of drama to the painting, and they also help to vary the composition by distributing areas of light and dark throughout the painting. The naturalistic arrangement of the figures, with three seated and one standing, and the bold use of lighting are examples of Caravaggio’s “illusionism”, his attempt to make us believe that the scene is really taking place before our eyes. Scholars like Roberta Lampucci have shown that Caravaggio probably had a hole in the ceiling of his studio from which light filtered, and he may have posed groups of people to act as models for his paintings (“Caravaggio’s Painting Secrets”). Light falling onto figures creates shadows, making the figures look more solid and three-dimensional. In The Supper at Emm ...Download file to see next pagesRead More
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