(b. 1571, Caravaggio, d. 1610, Porto Ercole)


c. 1607
Oil on canvas, 286 x 213 cm
Museo Nazionale di Capodimonte, Naples

This major painting, which (like the Seven Works of Mercy) dates from Caravaggio's first visit to Naples, is disquieting in its own special way. In May 1607 he was paid by Tommaso de' Franchis for an altarpiece to hang in the family chapel in San Domenico, where it stayed till 1972.

The atmosphere is so dense that the pillar before which Christ is being whipped can hardly be made out, but the handling of paint is so fluent that the cruel action taking place has its own powerful rhythm. The viewer is caught up in the horror.

The near-naked Christ is being twisted into position by the torturer on the right while the torturer on the left tears at his hair. At the bottom left a third tormentor stoops to prepare his scourge.

The composition is derived from a mural painting by Sebastiano del Piombo, but its restricted palette of dismal colours gives it a grim force that few earlier paintings had equaled.