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Europe 1300 - 1800

Caravaggio, Supper at Emmaus

Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, The Supper at Emmaus, 1601, oil on canvas, 55 x 77 inches, 141 x 196.2 cm (National Gallery, London) Speakers: Dr. Beth Harris and Dr. Steven Zucker. Created by Beth Harris and Steven Zucker.

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  • male robot hal style avatar for user Victor Yuan
    I might have missed it in the video, but why is Christ's face looking down?
    (4 votes)
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    • leaf blue style avatar for user Tuan Tran
      He is looking down because he is offering thanksgiving and praise to God the Father. Some background story: After Jesus' crucifixion and death, the two followers fled Jerusalem due to fear of persecution. Jesus appeared to them on the way, but they did not know who he was (Jesus wanted to reveal himself at the right time and not before.) Jesus asked them of where they were going. They explained to him the reason for their running away from danger, and Jesus explained to them about how the Christ had to suffer and die before he was raised from the dead using the writings of the prophets and kings in the Hebrew Scripture.

      Upon reaching an inn in Emmaus, they invited him to have supper with them thinking that he was just a stranger/acquaintance. At that moment Jesus Christ broke bread and offered thanks and praise to God, the Father, they were instantly reminded of the countless times that Jesus did that before His crucifixion and death. Their eyes were instantly opened (the scene of the painting). They were astonished, surprised, elated, and they knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that Jesus has risen from the dead and He was fully there with them in person, soul, and divinity. He even taught them Scriptures and persuaded them to have faith in God's promise through the prophets and kings. God can never lie because he is the Truth itself. The Bible goes on to say that Jesus left them after that. Instead of continuing to run away from Jerusalem, they decided to go back to Jerusalem to tell other followers of the great news of Jesus' resurrection. They along with the other believers also boldly and fearlessly proclaimed Jesus' resurrection to all the world.
      (24 votes)
  • leaf green style avatar for user Phillip Ramsey
    Where are the nail holes in the Hands?
    (2 votes)
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  • leaf orange style avatar for user Jeff Kelman
    Would the man with the white skull cap be wearing a Yarmulka perhaps? Is Caravaggio giving us a little piece of history here? And for that matter, how come you never see Christ or the apostles with a head covering given that that would have been a mandatory (Mitzvos) component of being Jewish at the time (and continues today amongst religious Jewry)?
    (3 votes)
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    • female robot ada style avatar for user Ms Jennifer
      Jeff, Caravaggio did not paint Christ in the clothing he expected to see from Christ's time; he's painting using clothing that Roman men wore in the early 17th c.

      According to my Jewish grandparents, the yarmulke/kippah (skullcap) was first worn by Babylonian Jews somewhere between 300 and 500 years after the death of Christ, so Jews in Christ's day did not wear head coverings unless it was a localized cultural norm, not a religious requirement at the time.
      (4 votes)
  • blobby green style avatar for user Louis van Wyk
    I'm in posession of a smaller painting of Caravaggio, Supper at Emmaus. It was carried over from family member to family member . It is an oil painting and seems very, very old. Am I in posession of something worthwhile?
    (2 votes)
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  • blobby green style avatar for user Nancy Bleisch
    The remarks below suggest that Christ is with three of his disciples. I had always understood that the standing figure was a server or innkeeper. Is there a general consensus on this point? Also, were the two disciples (apostles?) identified by Caravaggio? Has research suggested the identity of these two followers who lived in Emmaus?
    (I am a retired art teacher with a background in art history. Thanks for an interesting discussion.)
    (4 votes)
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    • female robot ada style avatar for user Ms Jennifer
      There are only two disciples and one innkeeper. There is confusion as to which disciple is which, since in the gospels only one is named (Cleopas). The other is NOT named. David Alexander misunderstands verse 34, but that scene is when Jesus appears in the Upper Room back in Jerusalem, not in Emmaus.

      The confusion is caused by the shell on the cloak of the disciple on the right. The shell is associated with St James, and it might be that Caravaggio is placing James at the table, but there's no biblical support for that. Most scholars believe it's Cleopas on the right.

      The word "disciples" comes from the Latin word "discipulus" which means student, or learner. It's not just Taiwanese that translates that as "student;" all languages translate it accordingly. The apostles are those disciples who spread the word of Christ as savior, and risen from the dead. The first apostle while Christ was alive was the Samaritan woman at the well. The first apostle after Christ was resurrected was Mary Magdalene. So a disciple was a follower of Christ; an apostle was anyone who proclaimed Christ Crucified as Savior. (Of course it's not lost on us that both the first apostles were women!)
      (1 vote)
  • male robot donald style avatar for user Colton Thomas Elliot Smith
    Why was the man in the green shirt look so frightened and torn in is shirt when he see the long hair man in the center?
    (3 votes)
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    • spunky sam red style avatar for user Jason Johnson
      Colton, this was not the thief on the cross. The two thieves were believed to be executed with Jesus. The three at the table were disciples of Jesus and according to the account in Acts they were surprised at seeing Jesus as he had hid his true form from them up until he disappeared. I am assuming the painter gave them tattered clothes to represent the fact that they were on the run from the authorities at the time. That is just my guess.
      (2 votes)
  • female robot amelia style avatar for user Vahid Khazane
    Why does Jesus has got a sort of feminine face? I mean at first sight,if you don't know the story of the scene you might not easily distinguish the main figure's gender. Where does this ambiguity come from?
    (1 vote)
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  • leaf red style avatar for user landrykai35
    Who are the people in this painting?
    (0 votes)
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    • ohnoes default style avatar for user Yasmine Yuma
      The painting represents a scene narrated in the Gospel. The people portrayed in the painting are: the innkeeper (the person standing, with the white skull cap), Cleopas on the left and his unnamed companion on the right: both are disciples of Christ. The man in the center is Jesus himself.
      (1 vote)

Video transcript

STEVEN ZUCKER: We're in the National Gallery in London, and we're looking at one of the great Caravaggios. This is the "Supper at Emmaus." It dates to about 1601, and it's a large painting. BETH HARRIS: It is large. STEVEN ZUCKER: And it's horizontal. And the figures are actually life size so that there's a real sense of our proximity, our presence at this table. BETH HARRIS: There's even a space for us. And the story is that Christ has been crucified, and his disciples are walking along a road. A man joins them. When they all sit down for dinner, this third man breaks the bread and at that moment is revealed to be the resurrected Christ. STEVEN ZUCKER: And we're seeing the reaction of those two disciples. BETH HARRIS: The moment when they recognize him. We have a split second in time and this high drama. STEVEN ZUCKER: The disciple on the left in the tattered green shirt or jacket looks into the table, seated at the table as we are. So his reaction is our reaction as we look to Christ. BETH HARRIS: I love this gesture that he makes, this figure in the left corner. He's so taken aback. He's frightened. He's moving his chair like, holy cow, interested and frightened at the same time. STEVEN ZUCKER: That's right, drawn back and drawn in-- BETH HARRIS: Forward, right. STEVEN ZUCKER: --simultaneously. And in fact, the entire painting draws forward and back simultaneously. Our eyes go into Christ. And in fact, both of the apostles frame our vision as we move towards that center. In other words, the whole painting is a kind of triangle of vision that moves into Christ's face. At the same moment, all of their hands-- or I should say, the left hand the apostle on the right and Christ's right hand both move out towards us, literally embracing us and inviting us visually into the image. BETH HARRIS: Well, I mean he couldn't be trying to do that more. It's not just in the hand, it's everywhere. I mean, look at that basket of fruit in the front-- STEVEN ZUCKER: The still life, yeah. BETH HARRIS: --that hangs off the table. Caravaggio was trying to make this painting burst into our space in every possible way he can to make it immediate and real and emotional for us. STEVEN ZUCKER: You know, I want to join that table. And of course, there's all of the sort of complexity of the emotions of the figures, which are of course the majority of the painting and the painting's purpose. But then there's a tremendous amount of attention that's paid to the still life. And look at the chicken, it looks good. BETH HARRIS: It does. The bread, the fruit. STEVEN ZUCKER: I wouldn't mind having the fruit. It's all beautiful. BETH HARRIS: It is that physicality that we expect of Caravaggio. STEVEN ZUCKER: Well, look, for instance, at the specificity of the joinery in the furniture. If you look at the chair on the left, the very technique of its construction is revealed to us. Everything in this painting is revealed and opened up to us. And yet, the painting's also incredibly focused. Where are we? We're in a kind of shallow space. It's quite dark. And he is really attending to our focus, making sure that our eye goes only where he wants it. BETH HARRIS: Well, and he puts the light there, that sharp light, almost theatrical light, on the left side of Christ's face. And what I'm also struck by is the thing that we always see with Caravaggio too, of the ordinariness of the figures. The apostle on the right looks like he has a bit of a cold. His nose is all red. STEVEN ZUCKER: It's true. BETH HARRIS: The apostle on the left-- STEVEN ZUCKER: In green BETH HARRIS: --the tear in his clothing. They're poor. That's what the apostles were, right? STEVEN ZUCKER: It's a rough and tumble world. And they're not in a church, they're in an inn. And so we have the innkeeper and quite plain furniture, quite a plain place setting. This is not the pomp and ceremony that we might see Christ represented when he's represented in a church-like setting. BETH HARRIS: As is also so typical of baroque and is so perfectly represented here, that moment when the divine enters the everyday world. STEVEN ZUCKER: Making the miraculous, the spiritual, immediate in our modern world. BETH HARRIS: And so immediately, physically, realistically in our space present. STEVEN ZUCKER: That was such a goal of the Counter-Reformation of the moment in which this painting was made. BETH HARRIS: Confirming and reaffirming and strengthening our faith.