The Capture of Christ
Evident on the reverse, prior to relining: ‘Anton Schiestl, gebürtig von Baden, Curat Benefiziat zu St. Peter in Wien hat dieses Bild den 17 August 1877 der Kirche gewidmet’
Oil on canvas
120 x 174 cm / 47.3 x 68.5 in
James Hamilton, 1st Duke of Hamilton (1606-1649), Scotland, listed in Inventories of 1638, 1643 and 1649;
Archduke Leopold Wilhelm (1614-1662) from 1649, Brussels, then Vienna, listed in Inventories of 1659, 1660;
Emperor Leopold I, Vienna, listed in Inventory of 1705;
Emperor Charles VI, Stallburg, Vienna, listed in List of 1735;
Anton Schiestl, Curate of St. Peter’s Church, before 1877, Vienna;
Church of St. Stephen, Baden, Donated by Anton Schiestl in 1877;
Sold by them to a Private Collection, Austria in 1920 and by descent;
Sold at Dorotheum, Vienna, 2 October 2002, lot 267;
Available on request
Milan, Palazzo Reale / Vienna, Liechtenstein Museum, Caravaggio e l’Europa. Il movimento caravaggesco internazionale da Caravaggio a Mattia Preti, 15 October 2005 - 6 February 2006 / 5 March - 9 July 2006, no. IV.1;
Ariccia, Palazzo Chigi, La “schola” del Caravaggio. Dipinti dalla Collezione Koelliker, 13 October 2006 - 11 February 2007, no. 1.
London, Robilant+Voena, Manfredi Rediscovered, 4 – 11 Jul 2014, London.
Documentary Evidence: A full study is available on request.
This is one of Bartolomeo Manfredi’s most important paintings. The literature on the artist had considered it lost: up to now it was only documented in an engraving by Pieter van Leysebetten, (c. 1660) for the Theatrum Pictorium by David Teniers the Younger (Brussels, 1660), the book of engravings illustrating the paintings in the collection of the Archduke Leopold Wilhelm. The archduke’s collections were moved from Brussels to Vienna in 1656, but the catalogue (the first known illustrated catalogue of an art collection) was published in 1660. Furthermore, David Teniers also included Manfredi’s picture in his own painting, showing two walls of the archduke’s gallery (Munich, Bayerische Staatsgemaldesammlungen), which also dates from around 1660 when the collection was already in Vienna.
Our painting surfaced at the Dorotheum (Vienna) on 2 October 2002 as the work of Bartolomeo Manfredi’s circle. At the time the over-painting on the canvas did not permit an objective evaluation. The iconography was identical to the original which led to hypotheses of a d’après or a copy. However, the painting’s true identity was clearly revealed when it was under restoration.
It was an exciting moment that day in December 2002 when the first stages of the cleaning had revealed a totally “different” painting and I was able to realize that this was the lost Capture of Christ by Bartolomeo Manfredi. The quality revealed by the restoration, which brought to light a painting in excellent condition, showed that there could be no doubts as to the attribution which is further supported by the fact that the painting comes from Austria.
As we mentioned, recent studies on the painter from Mantua had considered the painting lost. Nicolson (1967, p. 110; 1979, p. 70) wrote : "previously in the collection of Archduke Leopoldo Wilhelm "; the 1990 edition of his book included the engraving by Leysebetten (vol. II, fig. 297). Raffaella Morselli (1987, pp. 39-40) published both the David Teniers painting in Munich and the engraving, but did not mention this picture in the text (in 1993, she published the engraving once again, Fig. 5, and considered the painting lost).); Sergio Benedetti (1993, p. 33), mentioned the painting as in Flanders and published the engraving that documented the fact that it did indeed exist.
Benedetti’s essay was part of the catalogue for the exhibition featuring his amazing discovery of the Taking of Christ by Caravaggio in the residence of the Jesuit Community, Dublin (the canvas is now on indefinite loan to the National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin). Because of the evident source of the engraving, Sergio Benedetti maintains that Manfredi must have been "one of the few artists who knew the picture at first hand", since he believes that "the Mattei collection was rarely open to artists and connoisseurs during the seventeenth century". Actually, Manfredi may have seen the painting elsewhere than Palazzo Mattei since more than one scholar (including this author) supports the identification of the painter as "Bartolomeo assistant of Caravaggio” who was mentioned during the Baglione trial in 1603 (as per the documents published by Cappelletti and Testa, 1990, p. 77, Caravaggio painted the Taking of Christ during the final months of 1602 and was paid in full on 2 January 1603).
Now that we can see the painting, we can see realize how important the great prototype was to Manfredi. He reversed the scene, (it reads from right to left in the Caravaggio painting and from left to right here), but he used some of the compositional elements such as the soldier’s arm - in both it crosses the scene horizontally (in Manfredi’s Capture Judas’ arm becomes a sort of appendage that reaches and grasps the Christ figure); the arrangement of the older soldier’s profile is also similar (to the right in both paintings), to the face partially covered by the gleaming helmet, and in the background of both there is a lamp, partially hidden by the helmet of the soldier in the foreground. However, the artist from Mantua did create an image that is markedly different from Caravaggio’s and we can see his sensitivity, his melancholy that prompted him to paint a scene that is definitely more cadenced and “resigned” with respect to the stormy wind that agitates the Dublin painting. Here the scene is even more nocturnal, steely, closed, and inevitable. It is all emphasized by the main motif (definitely borrowed from Caravaggio, but accented to the point that it becomes the central focus): the superb rendering of the armour and helmets, an astonishing example of naturalism rendered with a virtuosity that puts this picture at the apex of the artist’s already acknowledged skills.
The passages of the gleaming armour are of exceptionally high quality and we are struck by the sequence of the three helmets to the right. The intent was clearly to show a portion of the faces without any specific identifying features (only the soldier in the centre has a face that can be “recognized”, and it is beautiful), almost as if to emphasize the mechanical, unstoppable, brutal destiny. This quality is so strong that it almost puts the beautifully rendered figures of the protagonists, Christ and Judas into “second place” (the Judas is still marked by some rigid Roncalliano “chromosome”). However, we must also note the beautiful detail of Christ’s hand that dominates the foreground with stylistic features that are so similar to Caravaggio that we are obliged to reflect on Manfredi’s relationship - which must have been even closer than previously believed (as Baglione noted, 1642, p. 158, albeit in reductive terms).
Manfredi’s chronology is a difficult matter since there is no consensus as to the dating of his works. However, recent studies by Maccherini (1999, pp. 131-141), have offered some points of reference, especially the time frame of the Cupid Chastised Chigi Collection (or better yet Mars Chastising Cupid in the Art Institute of Chicago), painted between April and September 1613, and the later dating, around 1618, of the canvases purchased by the Grand Duke Cosimo III for the Medici collections. I would tend towards dating this Capture of Christ within this timeframe, probably at the beginning of the second decade, close to Mars Chastising Cupid, where the more luminous general tone and detailing (which Maccherini justly points out) are perhaps due to the fact that he clearly drew his inspiration (on the verge of copying which may have been requested by the client Giulio Mancini) from a since lost painting by Caravaggio done during his “light” period when he was staying with Cardinal Del Monte. His extraordinary skill in rendering the helmet (in the foreground) in the Chicago painting is obvious at first glance, while the drapery of Mars’ robe is very similar to what we see on the Christ figure in the Capture. Venus’ face, where Manfredi clearly expresses the Roncalli imprint, seems reasonably comparable to the expression on the face of Judas with its striking features. The Ecce Homo in Memphis (which in my opinion because of its marked naturalism that is closer to an early concept of Caravaggio’s language), can be dated at the beginning of the second decade, is comparable in terms of the rendering and position of the hands (compare the hand of Pilate and Judas’ hand grasping Christ’s arm), of the rending of the drapery on Pilate, the guard with the helmet in the background, and the group of soldiers in the painting presented here. The sleeve of the soldier in the foreground who is reaching towards Christ is typical of the garments the artist used to clothe his figures: we can see it in the Concert and it was also evident in the Uffizi Card Players (the former is reduced to a fragment, while the latter has been destroyed), both paintings should date from a few years later, while Dice Players formerly with Trafalgar Galleries (erroneously attributed to Valentin) that has the same white damask sleeve with black stripes is from an earlier period and closer to the Capture of Christ.
Gianni Papi (2006)
Full Information Available On Request