CESARI, Giuseppe
(b. 1568, Arpino, d. 1640, Roma)

The Betrayal of Christ

Oil on copper, 77 x 56 cm
Galleria Borghese, Rome

Giovan Pietro Bellori, in a marginal note to Giovanni Baglione, called this work Cavaliere d'Arpino's most beautiful painting. Like so many of his works from this period, it is carefully executed - as befits a relatively small work on copper - and subtle in colour. Most exceptional is the handling of the two light sources, the moon and the artificial light that illuminates the figures. It is likely that the composition and the prominence given to the episode of St Peter cutting off the ear of Malchus were influenced by Dürer's 1510 woodcut of the same subject from The Large Passion. Despite obvious differences, it is likely that Caravaggio's Taking of Christ was inspired in part by Cavaliere d'Arpino's example. Caravaggio also used two different light sources in his half-length composition, the unseen moon and a lantern held by a figure thought to be a self-portrait of the artist. Furthermore, it has been suggested that Caravaggio took Cavaliere d'Arpino's lead in utilising Dürer prints for elements of his composition.

The importance of Cavaliere d'Arpino's Betrayal can also be measured by the fact that the Utrecht Caravaggesque painter Dirck van Baburen seems to have followed it rather than Caravaggio's painting in the canvas of the same subject that he painted in his early years in Rome. Interestingly, when the young Dutchman painted his second Taking of Christ around 1619, for Cardinal Scipione Borghese, he emulated Caravaggio's composition rather than that of Cavaliere d'Arpino. For the next generation of artists like Baburen and his contemporaries in Rome, Cavaliere d'Arpino's picture, despite its obvious skill and beauty, soon lost its appeal. These young painters, fighting for recognition towards the end of the second decade of the seventeenth century, quickly turned directly to Caravaggio and Bartolomeo Manfredi. Nevertheless, Caravaggio himself continued to value Cavaliere d'Arpino as an artist and to study works like the Betrayal, although his results are quite different.