National Gallery of Art - EXHIBITIONS


Lost and Found

The Taking of Christ was painted by Michelangelo da Merisi, better known as Caravaggio, in Rome in 1602. By the late eighteenth century, however, the painting seemed to have disappeared, and its whereabouts remained unknown for about two hundred years. In 1990 Caravaggio’s lost masterpiece was recognized in the residence of the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits) in Dublin, Ireland. The exciting rediscovery was published in 1993.

The painting had been hanging in the Jesuits’ dining room since the early 1930s, but had long been considered a copy of the lost original by Gerard van Honthorst, also known as Gerard of the Nights, one of Caravaggio’s Dutch followers. This erroneous attribution had been made while the painting was still in the possession of the Mattei family in Rome, whose ancestors had originally commissioned it. The family sold it, as a work by Honthorst, in 1802 to William Hamilton Nisbet, in whose home in Scotland it hung until 1921. Later that decade the painting was sold to an Irish pediatrician who eventually donated it to the Jesuit Brothers in Dublin in gratitude for their support following the death of her husband. The Taking of Christ remained in their possession for about sixty years, until the decision was made in the early 1990s to have it cleaned and restored. As layers of dirt and discolored varnish were removed, the supreme technical quality of the painting was revealed, and it was identified as Caravaggio’s lost painting. It is now on long-term loan to the National Gallery of Ireland, and crossed the Atlantic for the first time earlier this year as the centerpiece of the exhibition Saints and Sinners at the McMullen Museum of Art, Boston College. We thank Boston College, the Society of Jesus of Ireland, and the National Gallery of Ireland for making it possible for us to exhibit this painting, one of the master’s most powerful yet poignant works, at the National Gallery of Art.

Lost and Found | The Taking of Christ | Caravaggio and His Followers
The Counter-Reformation | The Penitent Sinner | Scenes of Martyrdom
Dreams and Visions | Secular Subjects and Sinners


This text was written by Mari Griffith for the department of exhibition programs.

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