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Taking of Christ

Cesari Giuseppe called Cavalier d'Arpino

(Arpino 1568 - Rome 1640)

This painting was defined by Giovan Pietro Bellori as the most beautiful work produced by the Cavalier d’Arpino. The scene of a nocturnal assault portrayed here is one of the most famous and imitated compositions by Cesari, to the extent that there are a several known replicas, workshop copies and derivations. The painting arrived in the collection of Scipione Borghese following the seizure of the works kept in the painter’s studio, ordered in 1607 by Paolo V. Mentioned in guides to the collection and family.

Object details

1598 circa
oil on copper
cm 79 x 58

Salvator Rosa, 97.5 x 76 x 7 cm


Rome, Giuseppe Cesari called Cavalier d’Arpino, ante 1607, inv. no. 3; Rome, Scipione Borghese Collection, 1607; Inv., 1693, room III, no. 57; Inv., 1790, room VIII, no. 33; Inventario Fidecommissario 1833, p. 38, no. 7; purchased by Italian state, 1902.

  • 1973 Roma, Palazzo Venezia 
  • 1989 San Pietroburgo, Hermitage Museum
  • 1993 Dublino, National Gallery of Ireland
  • 2000 Bergamo, Accademia Carrara
  • 2001 Roma, Palazzo Venezia – Londra, Royal Academy of Arts
  • 2007 Roma, Scuderie del Quirinale
  • 2012 Roma, Castel Sant’Angelo
Conservation and Diagnostic
  • 2001 Paolo Sannucci


This is one of the most admired and imitated works of Cavaliere d’Arpino, so much so that Bellori added a note to Baglione’s Life of the artist which reads, ‘the nicest painting that the Cavaliere ever made’ (quoted in Röttgen 1973, p. 91).

Cesari kept the painting in his studio until 1607, when in the wake of accusations of illegal possession of weapons directed against him Paul V’s fiscal police confiscated it, together with 104 other works, which were then all donated to the cardinal-nephew Scipione Borghese; today most of these paintings still form part of the Borghese Collection. The inventory of the seized works calls the painting ‘another painting of Christ’s arrest’, without an attribution. The fact that the work was in Scipione Borghese’s possession and that it was undoubtedly by Cesari is already attested to in Giulio Mancini’s Trattato, published in 1621 (ed. 1956, I, p. 238): ‘The Taking of Christ in the Garden, owned by the illustrious Borghese’. The attribution is confirmed by the 1650 guide to Villa Borghese compiled by Jacomo Manilli (p. 113), where the work is cited as ‘The taking of the Lord, with St Peter, who cuts Malchus’s ear; it is by Cavaliere Giuseppe’. The guide further explains that the painting was located in the third small room (today’s room 13), after that of the Three Graces. At the end of the 1600s, the work was transferred to Palazzo Borghese in Campo Marzio, where it was conserved for the next century, as we learn from a number of sources: the descriptions of Pietro De Sebastiani (1683, p. 27), the 1693 inventory (‘a painting on copper with a gilded frame, approximately 4 spans, showing the Taking of Our Lord in the Garden, no. 156, by Cavalier Gioseppe d’Arpino’), and the guides by Gregorio Roisecco (1750, pp. 158-159 and Ridolfino Venuti (1767, I, II, p. 410). Cited again among the works in Palazzo Borghese in both the 1790 and 1833 fideicommissum inventories, the painting returned to the Villa at unknown date during the 19th century.

As we have already seen from Manilli’s description, the nocturnal episode of Christ’s arrest, which occupies the centre of the composition, is accompanied by the powerful and dramatic representation in the foreground of St Peter cutting the ear of Malchus. On the left we see a young man fleeing naked from soldiers while they manage to grab only the sheet in which he was wrapped. Cesari’s treatment of the light is exceptional, as two sources are employed: the moon and the torch which illuminates the figures. It is indeed likely that the composition was influenced by Dürer’s famous woodcut of 1510, which also depicts the episode of St Peter and Malchus; the scene forms part of the Great Passion cycle. The most important model for the overall atmosphere of the composition has nonetheless been identified in the fresco by Marcantonio Dal Forno in the Oratorio del Gonfalone in Rome, executed in c.1574-75 (Strinati 1979, p. 11; Röttgen 2002, p. 309). On the other hand, we cannot rule out the possibility that this small masterpiece on copper by Cesari partially influenced Caravaggio’s Taking of Christ (Dublin, National Gallery of Ireland): this work also uses a dual light source, although in this case the moon is invisible. In addition, the two works are based on different interpretations of the subject: while Cesari’s painting has a timeless air, Caravaggio’s is characterised by an expressive power which immediately brings the theme to the level of human drama (Benedetti 1993, pp. 39-40; Slatkes 2001, p. 331). Conversely, the inclusion of the episode of St Peter and Malchus in Cesari’s painting may have influenced Dirck van Baburen’s first version of his Taking of Christ, held today at the Fondazione Roberto Longhi in Florence, while for second version – dating to c.1619 and held by the Galleria Borghese (inv. no. 28) – the painter looked to Caravaggio’s model (Slatkes, op. cit.).

The scene develops concentrically around the isolated figure of Christ, which represents the fulcrum of the composition. According to Röttgen, both this arrangement and the powerful light contrasts made a deep impression on Caravaggio, specifically for his execution of The Martyrdom of Saint Matthew in the Contarelli chapel in the Church of St. Louis of the French.

Regarding the dating of the work, its similarities with the Battle of Tullus Hostilius against the Veientes (inv. no. 391), in particular the dynamic of the movements and the distribution of colour, led Röttgen to propose that the painting was executed in 1596-97. Stefania Macioce (2000, p. 194), meanwhile, believed that it dated to after 1598, the year in which the painter was in Venice, where he presumably was able to view Christ Driving the Money Changers out of the Temple by Palma il Giovane (Kassel, Gemäldegalerie), which may have influenced him.

The success of Cesari’s Taking of Christ is attested to by the replicas made by both the painter and his workshop as well as the numerous other copies by other artists. Among these, we should mention that in the Staatliche Kunstsammlungen in Kassel, in which Cesari’s brother Bernardino is believed to have had a hand, and that in the Accademia di San Luca, which some scholars believe to be by the master himself (Papi 2019, pp. 21-22).

Pier Ludovico Puddu

  • G. Mancini, Considerazioni sulla Pittura [1621], ed. a cura di A. Marucchi, L. Salerno, Roma 1956, I, p. 238;
  • I. Manilli, Villa Borghese fuori di Porta Pinciana, Roma 1650, p. 113;
  • P. de’ Sebastiani, Viaggio curioso de’ palazzi e ville più notabili di Roma, Roma 1683, p. 27;
  • G. Roisecco, Roma ampliata, e rinnovata, o sia nuova descrizione dell’antica e moderna Città di Roma e di tutti gli edifici notabili che sono in essa, Roma 1750, pp. 158-159;
  • R. Venuti, Accurata e succinta descrizione topografica e istorica di Roma moderna, I, II, Roma 1767, p. 410;
  • G. Piancastelli, Catalogo dei quadri della Galleria Borghese in Archivio Galleria Borghese, 1891, p. 369;
  • A. Venturi, Il Museo e la Galleria Borghese, Roma 1893, p. 174;
  • H. Voss, Kritische Bemerkungen zu Seicentisten in den römischen Galerien, “Repertorium für Kunstwissenschaft”, XXXIII, 1910, p. 218;
  • H. Voss, Die Molerei der Spätrenaissance in Rom und Florenz, Berlin 1920, II, p. 594;
  • R. Longhi, Precisioni nelle Gallerie Italiane, I: La R. Galleria Borghese, Roma 1928, p. 211;
  • A. Venturi, Storia dell’Arte Italiana, IX, Roma 1932, 5, p. 938;
  • A. De Rinaldis, D’Arpino e Caravaggio, “Bollettino d’Arte” (XXIX), 1936, p. 580, nota 7;
  • A. De Rinaldis, Documenti inediti per la Storia della R. Galleria Borghese in Roma. I: Le opere d’arte sequestrate al Cavalier d’Arpino, in “Archivi” (III), 1936, p. 112, n. 1.
  • E.K. Waterhouse, Baroque Painting in Rome. The Seventeenth Century, London 1937, p. 6;
  • A. Quadrini, Il Cavalier d’Arpino, Isola del Liri 1940, p. 52;
  • P. Della Pergola, La Galleria Borghese. I Dipinti, II, Roma 1959, pp. 63-64, n. 91;
  • H. Röttgen in Il Cavalier D’Arpino, catalogo della mostra (Roma, Palazzo Venezia, 1973), a cura di H. Röttgen, Roma 1973, pp.91-92, n.18.
  • H. Röttgen, Il Caravaggio. Ricerche e interpretazioni, Roma 1974, pp. 43-44;
  • C. Strinati, Marcantonio Del Forno nell’Oratorio del Gonfalone a Roma, “Antichità viva”, 15, 1976, 3, pp. 14-22;
  • C. Strinati, in Quadri Romani tra ‘500 e ‘600 - Opere restaurate e da restaurare, catalogo della mostra (Roma, Palazzo Venezia, 1979), a cura di C. Strinati, Roma 1979, p. 11;
  • S. Benedetti, in Caravaggio. The Master Revealed, catalogo della mostra (Dublino, National Gallery of Ireland, 1993) Dublin 1993, pp. 39-41, n. 1;
  • R. Cannatà, H. Röttgen, Un quadro per la SS. Trinità dei Pellegrini affidato a Caravaggio, ma eseguito dal Cavalier d’Arpino, in Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio. La vita e le opere attraverso i documenti, atti del convegno internazionale di studi, a cura di S. Macioce, Roma 1996, p. 88;
  • K. Herrmann Fiore, Guida alla Galleria Borghese, Roma 1997, p. 62;
  • C. Stefani in P. Moreno, C. Stefani, Galleria Borghese, Milano 2000, p. 200;
  • K. Herrmann Fiore, Caravaggio e la quadreria del Cavalier d’Arpino, in Caravaggio. La luce nella pittura lombarda, catalogo della mostra (Bergamo, Accademia Carrara, 2000), a cura di C. Strinati, Milano 2000, p. 60;
  • S. Macioce, in Caravaggio: la luce nella pittura lombarda, catalogo della mostra (Bergamo, Accademia Carrara, 2000), a cura di C. Strinati, Milano 2000, p. 193, n. 17;
  • L.J. Slatkes, in The genius of Rome, 1592-1623, catalogo della mostra (Londra, Royal Academy of Arts, 2001; Roma, Palazzo Venezia, 2001) a cura di B.L. Brown, London 2001, p. 331, n. 125;
  • H. Röttgen, Il Cavalier Giuseppe Cesari D’Arpino: un grande pittore nello splendore della fama e nell’incostanza della fortuna, Roma 2002, pp. 308-309, n. 68;
  • K. Herrmann Fiore, Galleria Borghese Roma scopre un tesoro. Dalla pinacoteca ai depositi un museo che non ha più segreti, San Giuliano Milanese 2006, p. 117.
  • C. Fiore, in Dürer e l’Italia, catalogo della mostra (Roma, Scuderie del Quirinale, 2007), a cura di K. Herrmann Fiore, Milano 2007, p. 327, n. VII.2;
  • G. Pellini, in I papi della memoria, catalogo della mostra (Roma, Castel Sant’Angelo, 2012), a cura di G.S. Ghia, Roma 2012, pp. 268-269 n. V.88;
  • G. Papi, Caravaggio e la ‘Cattura di Cristo’, in La ‘Cattura di Cristo’ da Caravaggio. Un recupero per le Gallerie degli Uffizi, a cura di G. Papi e M. Sframeli, Livorno 2019, p. 22.