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Caravaggio's The Supper at Emmaus

Saturday, October 10, 2009Sunday, January 24, 2010
Gallery 211

This October and through the holidays, the National Gallery of London is sending an exceptional loan to Chicago: Caravaggio’s The Supper at Emmaus. In return, the Art Institute’s renowned painting The Crucifixion by Francisco de Zurbarán will travel to London, where it will play a key role in the exhibition The Sacred Made Real, Spanish Painting and Sculpture 1600–1700. Caravaggio’s The Supper at Emmaus will temporarily take its place at the Art Institute amid the collection’s “Caravaggesque” paintings.

This is an extremely rare opportunity to view firsthand one of the most highly regarded paintings by one of the most influential Western artists of all time. There are very few paintings by Caravaggio in American museums, and none that can rival this painting in its immediate impact. The Supper at Emmaus, painted in 1601 for a Roman nobleman, comes from the outset of a new, mature phase of the master’s career in which he treated great religious subjects with uncompromising realism, while at the same time employing his trademark contrasts of light and dark to great dramatic effect. In this revelatory image, two of Christ’s disciples have just recognized that the stranger at their table is none other than Christ himself, reappearing to them after his death and Resurrection.

The Supper at Emmaus will serve as the centerpiece for a focus installation in Gallery 211 of the Art Institute’s collection of “Caravaggesque” paintings. Caravaggio’s insistence on heightened realism and the sculptural qualities of his figures, often brightly lit against a dark background, are evident in works such as Bartolomeo Manfredi’s Cupid Chastised and Cecco del Caravaggio’s The Resurrection. A gallery brochure will also lead visitors to other galleries where the diffusion of Caravaggio’s style throughout Europe will be immediately apparent in works such as Rembrandt’s Old Man with a Gold Chain and Rubens’s The Capture of Samson.

Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio.The Supper at Emmaus, 1601. The National Gallery of London, Presented by the Honorable George Vernon, 1839, NG172.