Caravaggio’s Easter: Witnessing the Kiss of Judas

It’s Easter Sunday, the culmination of a week that evokes intense and mixed feelings among believers. The Italian Baroque genius, Caravaggio; masterfully captured several historic events that inspired one extreme of these feelings. He did it through a series of chiaroscuro paintings that remind us that Jesus Christ was betrayed and denied before AND after his death and resurrection: The Betrayal of Christ, The Denial of Saint Peter and The Incredulity of Saint Thomas are three such paintings, each a masterpiece.

In these works, the figures appear against a dark background, as if someone suddenly lit a candle causing the figures to slowly come to light, dramatizing the scene and lending the composition a theatrical quality. Caravaggio is the coessential master of the chiaroscuro technique (literally, light-dark), and he fully manipulated its qualities in his works, to which he added a touch of his own taste for secularizing religious themes: his saints appear like laymen, even vulgar at times. This –along with his eccentric life and his harsh criticism to Raphael and to other ‘venerated’ Renaissance Masters- earned him such names as ‘The Dark Master’ and ‘The Anti-Christ of Painting’.

The facial expressions, hand gestures and body language are all orchestrated into a meaningful language: the raised eyebrows and wrinkled forehead of St. Thomas as he slowly sticks his finger in the wound of Jesus Christ, the crossed fingers of Christ and his graceful resignation as he receives the kiss of Judas, the anxious body language of St. Peter while denying his relation to Jesus Christ (which he would do three times, thus fulfilling the prophecy)…these are all examples. Caravaggio himself is there to witness these events in person (he appears as the first person from the right in The Betrayal of Christ painting).

I leave you with these three paintings.

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