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Gerrit van Honthorst: 'Christ before the High Priest'

Christ was brought before the High Priest by Roman soldiers. He was questioned about his teachings and false testimony was called against him. New Testament (all gospels, e.g. Matthew 26: 57-66).

This is one of the most famous paintings made by Honthorst in Rome, and shows the powerful influence of Caravaggio. The scene is focused on the burning candle in the centre of the composition, and beside it the arm and raised finger of the High Priest. Under Jewish law his claim to be the Messiah was punishable by death, and the book on the table in front of the High Priest contains the proscriptions of the Mosaic Law. The painting is concentrated in theme, lacking the anecdotal character that affected the work of the majority of Caravaggio's followers. In this respect, it approaches the directness of Caravaggio's own later work, such as 'Salome receives the Head of Saint John', also in the National Gallery's Collection.

According to van Honthorst's biographer, Joachim von Sandrart, the patron was the Marchese Vincenzo Giustiniani, in whose palace the artist stayed during his years in Rome. Honthorst, a native of the Dutch town of Utrecht, may have moved to Rome perhaps as early as 1610 and returned in about 1620.


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