Caravaggio’s striking painting The Supper at Emmaus is one of the most respected and influential paintings in the canon of Western Art.
The occasion of the painting crossing the Atlantic to be on display at The Art Institute of Chicago is an occasion to be noted; similar to the significant visit of Vermeer’s The Milkmaid to the Met in NYC.
The rarity of Caravaggio paintings in U.S. museums in general makes the visit of what is perhaps his most significant work even more worthy of note.
In exchange for the loan of the Art Institute’s The Crucifixion by Francisco de Zubaran, the painting will be on loan from The National Gallery, London to the Art Institute from October 10, 2009 to January 31, 2010.
Caravaggio’s display of virtuosity here is well known (in spite of the oddly disproportionate rendering of the right hand of the disciple to our right). The painting is also fascinating for the compositional choices the artist has made, the fingers extending off canvas at right, the about-to-stand position of the foreground figure, the rich detail of the still life arrangement on the table, the dramatic shadows against the wall, seemingly in contradiction to the direction of light in other parts of the painting, and the interplay between the figures and the directions of their gazes.
Caravaggio painted two versions of this scene, separated by time, space and widely different circumstances in the artist’s life; as reflected in the dark, subdued version in Milan, a stark contrast to the richly colored, dramatic composition of the London painting.