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The Betrayal of Christ

Baburen Dirk van

(Utrecht c. 1590 - 1624)

This painting belonged to the sculptor Bartolomeo Cavaceppi, who gave it to Marcantonio Borghese in 1787 in exchange for a monthly pension of 50 scudi. Roberto Longhi was the first to propose an attribution to Dirk van Baburen, noting similarities with other paintings by the artist produced for San Pietro in Montorio in Rome. The canvas closely resembles the work with the same subject that Caravaggio painted for Ciriaco Mattei in the first years of the 17th century, of which many copies were made.


Object details

1616 - 1619 circa
oil on canvas
cm 139 x 202

19th-century frame with frieze with lotus leaves and palmettes, 163.5 x 230.5 x 9 cm


Rome, Marcantonio Borghese, 1787 (from Bartolomeo Cavaceppi, in exchange for pension); Inv. 1790, room I, no. 31; Inventario Fidecommissario 1833, p. 10, no. 39; purchased by Italian state, 1902.

  • 1928 Roma, Galleria Borghese
  • 1951 Milano, Palazzo Reale
  • 1993 Dublino, National Gallery of Ireland
  • 1999-2000 Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado; Bilbao, Museo de Bellas Artes
  • 2001 Tokyo, Museo Teien; Okazaki, City Museum
  • 2007-2008 Napoli, Museo Nazionale di Capodimonte
Conservation and Diagnostic
  • 1950 Decio Podio (new stretcher)
  • 1951 Restorers of the exhibition Caravaggio a Milano


A document preserved among the Borghese archival materials in the Vatican Apostolic Archive mentions that this painting formed part of a series of works that the sculptor Cavaceppi gave to Prince Marcantonio Borghese in 1787 in exchange for a monthly pension of 50 scudi (cited in Della Pergola 1959, p. 225, n. 95). Here the work is described as ‘the kiss of Judas by Vander’: the mistaken indication of the artist’s identity was probably due to an abbreviation or deformation of the Flemish name.

In the same year, a short piece in the Giornale delle belle arti (1787, p. 124) on the works in the collection of Marcantonio Borghese at the Villa Pinciana mentioned ‘a beautiful kiss of Judas by Wandich’. The canvas first appears in a Borghese inventory in 1790, when it was noted with the same description given in the document of three years earlier and the same reference to the monthly pension. The Inventario Fidecommissario of 1833, meanwhile, listed it as ‘the kiss of Judas, by Sein [Stern ?], 9 spans wide, 6 spans 2 inches high’.

The attribution of The Betrayal of Christ to Dirk van Baburen was first proposed by Roberto Longhi (1926, pp. 69-70), who rejected the name of Bartolomeo Manfredi previously put forth by Adolfo Venturi (1893, p. 46). Longhi in fact noted similarities between the canvas in question and other works painted by the Dutch artist for the church of San Pietro in Montorio in Rome. In particular, this critic believed that the Borghese painting was executed shortly before the Deposition of the Roman church, which can be dated to 1617. For their part, Slatkes (1965, p. 54) and Franits (2013, p. 106) proposed a later year, roughly 1619.

Upon his arrival in Rome (in approximately 1615), the artist from Utrecht had already painted the episode of Christ’s arrest in a work for the Spanish ambassador Pietro Cussida (today held at the Fondazione Longhi in Florence). In that case, the subject included the figure of Peter – the saint with the same name as the patron – who severs the ear of Malchus on the right side of the scene. According to Franits (2013), the painting for Cussida is still distant from the Borghese version, in which the figures are portrayed in three-quarter profile and with greater grace and harmony.

The work in question shows conspicuous similarities with Caravaggio’s Betrayal of Christ (Dublin, National Gallery of Ireland), painted for Ciriaco Mattei in the opening years of the 17th century and of which numerous copies were made. Yet Van Baburen’s treatment of the same subject is more balanced and composed.  The brightness of the armour, whose reflection illuminates the scene, is softened the central figure of Christ in a red garment, with his eyes raised to heaven and his hands bound; of the persons depicted he is the only one who faces the viewer. The cadenced construction of the composition produces a dramatic effect that is more theatrical than profound. The work shows the influence of Bartolomeo Manfredi’s attempt to simplify Caravaggio’s style and soften its dramatic moral and artistic impact: it was by this means that Caravaggio’s modes found a wider and less rigorous diffusion. Reproduced in different contexts, they could be transformed into elements of ‘genre’ painting, which would develop into the phenomenon of so-called caravaggismo. This approach – which not by chance was termed Manfrediana methodus – became popular in Rome in the first decades of the 17th century, in particular among the substantial colony of artists from northern Europe who came to the Eternal City in search of new, high-profile commissions. Van Baburen in particular, who worked with David de Haen in the church of San Pietro in Montorio, ably managed to mediate these teachings with the Baroque style of Rubens.

Franits (2013, p. 107, nos A13W1, A13R1) pointed out two copies of the painting of almost identical dimensions, whose whereabouts are at present unknown.

Pier Ludovico Puddu

  • “Giornale delle Belle Arti”, 21 aprile 1787, p. 124;
  • A. Manazzale, Itinerario (cfr. 1794 e 1798), 1817, I, p. 240;
  • M. Vasi, Itinerario (cfr. 1786), 1818, I, p. 61;
  • A. Nibby, Roma nell’anno MDCCCXXXVIII. Parte seconda moderna, Roma 1841, p. 596;
  • X. Barbier de Montault, Les Musées et Galeries de Rome, Rome 1870, p. 363;
  • G. Piancastelli, Catalogo dei quadri della Galleria Borghese in Archivio Galleria Borghese, 1891, p. 419;
  • A. Venturi, Il Museo e la Galleria Borghese, Roma 1893, p. 46;
  • R. Longhi, Precisioni nelle Gallerie italiane. R. Galleria Borghese (I. Bernini-Lelio Orsi-Guy François-Dirk Baburen-Savoldo), in “Vita artistica”, 1926, pp. 69-70;
  • T. H. Fokker, The Nederlandsche Navolgers van Caravaggio te Rome, in “Oud Holland”, XLIV, 1927, p. 137;
  • G. J. Hoogewerff, in Mostra di capolavori della pittura olandese, catalogo della mostra (Roma, Galleria Borghese 1928), Roma 1928, p. 44;
  • R. Longhi, Precisioni nelle Gallerie Italiane, I, La R. Galleria Borghese, Roma 1928, p. 23;
  • A. Schneider (von), Caravaggio und die Niederländer, Marburg-Lahn 1933, pp. 44, 134
  • A. De Rinaldis, La R. Galleria Borghese in Roma, (“Itinerari dei Musei e Monumenti d’Italia” XLIII), 3a ed., Roma 1939, p. 17;
  • G. Castelfranco, Mostra del Caravaggio, in “Bollettino d’Arte” (XXXVI), 1951, p. 285;
  • P. Della Pergola, La Galleria Borghese in Roma (“Itinerari dei Musei e monumenti d’Italia”), Roma 1951, p. 23;
  • Mostra del Caravaggio e dei Caravaggeschi, catalogo della mostra (Milano, Palazzo Reale, 1951), Firenze 1951, pp. 43-44;
  • A. Czobor, “L’arrestation du Christ” du Caravage, in “Bullettin de Musée Hongrois des Baux-Arts, X, 1957, p. 30;
  • P. Della Pergola, La Galleria Borghese. I Dipinti, II, Roma 1959, p. 144, n. 197;
  • M. Rostworowski, Nowe Nazwiska Malarzy Holenderskich w Galerii Czartoryskich Muzeum Narodowego w Krakowie, in “Biuletyn historii sztuki”, XXII, 1960, p. 299;
  • L. J. Slatkes, Dirck van Baburen, Utrecht 1965, pp. 6, 51-55, 110-112, 123;
  • L. J. Slatkes, David de Haen and Dirck van Baburen in Rome, in “Oud Holland”, LXXXI, 1966, pp. 182-183;
  • S. Benedetti, in Caravaggio. The Master Revealed, catalogo della mostra (Dublino, National Gallery of Ireland, 1993-1994), Dublin 1993, p. 44, n. 4;
  • V. White, Il soggiorno romano di Dirck van Baburen, in Fiamenghi che vanno e vengono non li si pul dar regola. Paesi Bassi e Italia fra Cinquecento e Seicento; pittura, storia e cultura degli emblemi, a cura di S. Danesi Squarzina, I. Baldriga, Sant’Oreste 1995, pp. 183-184;
  • K. Herrmann Fiore, Guida alla Galleria Borghese, Roma 1997, p. 62;
  • C. Stefani, in P. Moreno, C. Stefani, Galleria Borghese, Milano 2000, p. 190, n. 8;
  • 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. 15;
  • T. Scarpa, in Capodimonte. Omaggio a Capodimonte, catalogo della mostra (Napoli, Museo e Gallerie Nazionali di Capodimonte, 2007), a cura di N. Spinosa, Napoli 2007, pp. 16-17;
  • B. Treffers 2010, pp. 292-293, fig. 5;
  • I. Baldriga, B. Treffers, “Una maniera meravigliosamente adatta da seguire”. Percorsi caravaggeschi tra Fiandre e Olanda, in I caravaggeschi. Percorsi e protagonisti, a cura di A. Zuccari, Milano 2010, I, p. 262;
  • W. E. Franits, The Paintings of Dirck van Baburen, ca. 1592/93-1624. Catalogue Raisonné, Amsterdam 2013, pp. 105-107, n. A13.