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Video transcript

we're in the National Gallery in London and we're looking at one of the great Caravaggio this is the supper at Emmaus it dates to about 1601 and it's a large painting it is large and it's horizontal and the figures are actually life-size so that there's a real sense of our proximity our own presence at this table is 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 and we're seeing the reaction of this movement when they recognize him we have a split second in time and this high drama 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 I love this gesture that he makes this figure in the left corner he's so taken about he's frightened he's moving his chair up like holy cow interested in frightened at the same time that's right drawn back and drawn in for science 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 of the Apostle on the right and Christ's right hand both move out towards us literally embracing us and inviting us visually into being well I mean he couldn't be trying to do that more it's not just in the hand and it's everywhere I mean look at that basket of food in the still life 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 you know I want to join that table and of course there's all of the comfort of complexity of the emotions of the figures which were of course image are of the painting and the paintings purpose but then there's a tremendous amount of attention that's been paid to the still life and look at the chicken it looks good you know I wouldn't the bread what am I really the fruit it's all beautiful it's that physicality that we expected Caravaggio 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 this painting is revealed and opened up to us and yet the painting is 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 but if it's the light there too that sharp light almost theatrical light on the left side of Christ's face and when I'm also struck by is this thing that we always see with Caravaggio two of the ordinariness of the figures apostle on the right looks like he has a bit of a cold she's read the Apostle on the left in green hair in his clothing you know their pores it's a rough powerful flower 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 play setting this is not the pomp and ceremony that we might see Christ represented when he's represented in a church like setting as is also so typical of Baroque and is so perfectly represented here that moment when the divine enters the everyday world making the miraculous the spiritual immediate in our modern world and so immediately physically realistically in our space present that was such a goal of the counter-reformation of the moment in which this painting was made confirming and reaffirming and strengthening our faith