The Supper at Emmaus by Caravaggio

  

Whilst walking around the National Gallery in London a short time ago I happened to enter one of the rooms in which a talk was being given by one of the curators of the gallery. His small audience and I were mesmerised by his fascinating tale regarding Caravaggio’s painting Supper at Emmaus which was hanging on the wall behind him.
The subject matter of this painting is based on one of the stories from the gospels of the New Testament. The Gospel of Luke (24:13-32) tells of an encounter whilst on the road to Emmaus, two days after the crucifixion, , between Jesus and two of his disciples, one of which was thought to be Cleopas. At the time they did not recognise him as Jesus and they persuaded the stranger to take supper with them. It is at this supper when Jesus “breaks the bread” that they recognise him.
The painting by Michaelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio shows that moment of recognition with Cleopas, on the left, half rising from his chair in shock. Caravaggio’s innovative treatment of the subject makes this one of his most powerful works. The depiction of Christ is unusual in that he is beardless and great emphasis is given to the still life on the table. The intensity of the emotions of Christ’s disciples is conveyed by their gestures and expression. Caravaggio used many devices to create depth in the painting and brings the figures closer to the viewer. The elbow of the disciple on the left with its white patch, the basket of fruit finely balanced on the edge of the table and the outstretched left hand of the disciple on the right which almost goes off the edge of the picture all create the illusion that we are almost at the table ourselves.

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Netherlandish Proverbs by Pieter Bruegel the Elder

Netherlandish Proverbs by Peter Bruegel the Elder

I have a large framed print of this painting on my dining room wall and it is often the subject of many conversations of the diners sat around the table. I saw the original painting when I visited the Staatliche Museen in Berlin many years ago and was fascinated by the amount of activity going on within the painting.   Along with the print of the painting which I bought there was a small black and white copy of the picture on which the various parts of the scene were numbered so that one could look along the corresponding number on a list of proverbs the painting was depicting. This has been a God-send when viewers of my print have tried to work out the possible meanings of the various scenes.
The painting depicts a land populated with literal renditions of Flemish proverbs some of which are not in use any more or have somewhat lost their meaning when translated into English.  More than a hundred proverbs and idiomatic expressions have been identified describing “topsy-turvy” ways of behaviour.   This explains the other name occasionally given the painting, that of The Topsy-Turvy World.