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The Flagellation of Christ

Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio

(1571 - 1610) | 955.8.1

Date : Circa 1606 | Medium : Oil on canvas

The Rouen Museum of Fine Arts owes this work, one of its masterpieces, to a highly inspired and relatively late purchase made in 1955. This Flagellation of Christ with its small number of characters seen from close up, captured in the shadows but sculpted by a light from a cellar window that emanates from above and marks out their forms, is characteristic of Caravaggio.

The light falls on the movements of the persecutors, producing a kinetic effect that gives Christ, seen as a denuded athlete, an extra dimension of physical presence. The vulgar appearance of the persecutors, who seem rather like unfortunate victims, the brutality of their gestures, the recomposing of shapes under the effect of the lighting and the vision of Christ’s exhausted features are all firmly anchored in physical reality. However the red cloak, thrown to the ground, connotes the stripping of royalty and the white perizonium recalls the shroud, while alongside Jesus, muscled body intact and totally preserved, the pillar ascends towards the heavens, marked by streaks resembling wounds. This work was painted in 1606-1607, at the end of the provocative artist’s Roman period, or shortly after his flight to Naples. The direct and intense approach to a well-known scene, viewed as though through new eyes, was to become a model and a reference for the artists from all nations (from France and Flanders to Spain) who would come to live and work in Italy.