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Two Caravaggio paintings to have rare reunion at Ulster Museum

Two masterpieces by the painter Caravaggio are set for a rare reunion at the Ulster Museum in Belfast.

The Supper at Emmaus and The Taking of Christ, painted in 1601 and 1602 respectively by Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, have rarely been seen together since the first quarter of the 17th century.

The reunion comes thanks to the National Treasures project, which will see The Supper at Emmaus loaned to the Ulster Museum, while the Jesuit Community in Dublin, with the support of the National Gallery of Ireland, will facilitate the loan of The Taking of Christ.

Caravaggio (Michelangelo Merisi da) (1571–1610), The Taking of Christ, 1602 – on indefinite loan to the National Gallery of Ireland from the Jesuit Community, Leeson St, Dublin, who acknowledge the kind generosity of the late Dr Marie Lea-Wilson, 1992 (National Gallery of Ireland)
Caravaggio (Michelangelo Merisi da) (1571–1610), The Taking of Christ, 1602 – on indefinite loan to the National Gallery of Ireland from the Jesuit Community, Leeson St, Dublin, who acknowledge the kind generosity of the late Dr Marie Lea-Wilson, 1992 (National Gallery of Ireland)

The National Gallery developed the National Treasures programme as part of a series of events to mark its bicentenary and bring masterpieces across the UK for wider audiences to enjoy.

Anne Stewart, senior curator of art at National Museums NI, said announcing the exhibition in the lead-up to Easter “holds profound meaning”.

“The Taking of Christ portrays the arrest of Christ after Judas identifies him with a kiss, while The Supper at Emmaus captures the initial recognition of Christ by two disciples following the crucifixion and resurrection,” she said.

“The connection between the two Caravaggio paintings is remarkable.

“Both were painted for the same patron, Ciriaco Mattei, and originally displayed in the same family palace in Rome.

“Reuniting Caravaggio’s The Supper at Emmaus and The Taking of Christ is a highly ambitious and unusual event.

“Both paintings very rarely travel and they have hardly ever been seen together since the first quarter of the 17th century.

“We are truly honoured and grateful to the National Gallery, the National Gallery of Ireland and the Jesuit Community in Dublin for allowing us the opportunity to bring together two rare artworks and provide our audiences and the public with a rare chance to access these masterpieces.”

Alexandra Kavanagh, head of national touring at the National Gallery, voiced excitement about the exhibition as a “fresh perspective to a much-loved painting”.

“To get a chance to see it alongside the National Gallery of Ireland’s equally excellent Caravaggio sums up exactly the sort of dialogues we hoped to spark with National Treasures,” she said.

Dr Caroline Campbell, director of the National Gallery of Ireland, described The Taking of Christ as one of the most popular works on show at the gallery.

“While we’ll miss it when it travels to Belfast, we eagerly anticipate its display at the Ulster Museum alongside the artist’s The Supper at Emmaus from the National Gallery, London,” she said.

“It will be the first time these great masterpieces are shown together in Northern Ireland, and it’s a really exciting moment for art lovers there.”

Kathryn Thomson, chief executive of National Museums NI, said: “This is a wonderful example of bringing together strong east/west and north/south partnerships at the same time, and we are extremely grateful to colleagues in both London and Dublin who have helped make this happen.

Rembrandt etchings
National Museums NI chief executive Kathryn Thomson (Darren Kidd/National Museums NI/PA)

“To be able to see both paintings together in the one location is almost unprecedented, and as such creates a genuine once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for local audiences, as well as an undoubted draw for visitors from further afield.

“It also demonstrates how heritage and arts can help celebrate our shared history and cultural diversity in a way that is inclusive and accessible to all.”

The Supper at Emmaus and The Taking of Christ will be on display at the Ulster Museum from Friday May 10, the 200th birthday of the National Gallery, London, and is sponsored by EY.

For more information visit https://www.ulstermuseum.org/whats-on/national-treasures-caravaggio-belfast.