Sunday, March 4, 2012

Second Sunday of Lent - Christ Taken Prisoner

Title: Christ Taken Prisoner
Artist: Giuseppe Cesari
Medium: Oil on walnut panel
Size: 89 x 62 cm
Date: c. 1597
Location: Staatliche Museen, Kassel.

Mark 14:43-52 - Just as he was speaking, Judas, one of the Twelve, appeared. With him was a crowd armed with swords and clubs, sent from the chief priests, the teachers of the law, and the elders. Now the betrayer had arranged a signal with them: “The one I kiss is the man; arrest him and lead him away under guard.” Going at once to Jesus, Judas said, “Rabbi!” and kissed him. The men seized Jesus and arrested him. Then one of those standing near drew his sword and struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his ear. “Am I leading a rebellion,” said Jesus, “that you have come out with swords and clubs to capture me? Every day I was with you, teaching in the temple courts, and you did not arrest me. But the Scriptures must be fulfilled.” Then everyone deserted him and fled. A young man, wearing nothing but a linen garment, was following Jesus. When they seized him, he fled naked, leaving his garment behind.

As the armed mob takes Jesus captive, in a futile gesture, one of the disciples draws a sword and severs the ear of the high priest's servant. In Matthew's account this becomes an opportunity for Jesus to teach. He warns the disciple not to return violence for violence, for those who live by the sword die by the sword. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus had urged his disciples not to turn to violence; a child of God must love even the enemy. If it were a simple matter of displays of power, God could overwhelm Jesus' attackers with legions of angels. But God's reign revealed in the scriptures would not be imposed by violence. Jesus' fidelity would take him into the valley of death but, ultimately, the scriptures would be fulfilled and love would defeat violence and death.

Giuseppe Cesari (1568 – July 1640) was an Italian Mannerist painter, also named Il Giuseppino. Christ Taken Prisoner is one of Cesari's most important works, its popularity attested by the existence of a somewhat smaller version in the Galleria Borghese and of numerous copies. Cesari bathes the scene in a pale moonlight that gives the colors an almost metallic coolness. His rendering of the form of the moon, and of the stars shining with varying degrees of brightness, testifies to a growing interest in the realistic representation of the night sky. The picture must have been painted in Rome in 1596/97, when Cesari was working on one of his most important commissions, the fresco cycle for the Palazzo dei Conservatori.

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