Analyze Caravaggio's painting The Supper at Emmaus (1601)

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lprono | Middle School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator

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The Supper of Emmaus (1601) was painted by the Italian Baroque artist Caravaggio. The Catholic Church was reacting against the Lutheran Reformation and wanted religious art inspired by realist principles so that the people could understand the scenes and identify with the characters.

Yet, several times Caravaggio went too far and his paintings were controversial for their excessive realism which was, at times, considered blasphemous. The Supper of Emmaus is a typical example of Caravaggio's realism which takes out of its subject any idealization and beauty. The painting depicts the moment when Jesus reveals his identity to his disciples after his Resurrection. Caravaggio catches the surprise, rather than the sublime element of the scene, foregrounding, with his typical use of light, the surprised faces and the outstretched arms. As part of his realism, Caravaggio chose to represent the disciples with torn clothes and around a humble meal, stressing a domesticity which viewers could relate to.

Jesus's blessing of the meal evokes debate on the meaning of the Eucharist between those in the Reformation and those of the Counter Reformation. With its Eucharist references (Jesus's blessing, the bread in the foreground), the painting illustrates the Counter Reformation conception of the Eucharist as characterized by the presence of Christ's body. The commotion around the table causes the fruit basket to seem to be close to falling off the table, almost inviting the viewers to reach out for it and thus inviting them to be part of Christ's revelation.

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