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Gerrit van Honthorst, Christ before the High Priest

Key facts
Full title Christ before the High Priest
Artist Gerrit van Honthorst
Artist dates 1592 - 1656
Date made about 1617
Medium and support Oil on canvas
Dimensions 272 × 183 cm
Acquisition credit Bought, 1922
Inventory number NG3679
Location Room 24
Collection Main Collection
Previous owners
Christ before the High Priest
Gerrit van Honthorst

This large, atmospheric painting most likely depicts a moment from Christ’s trial before the Sanhedrin (a Jewish judicial body). The composition is symmetrically balanced around the lit candle on the central table: the shimmering flame illuminates the faces of Christ and the man sat facing him, probably the priest Caiaphas, but not much else. The picture hints at why, when he worked in Rome between 1610 and 1620, Honthorst’s nickname was Gherardo della Notte (Gherardo of the night).

Although it is shaped like an altarpiece, the picture was likely painted to be housed in the palace of Marchese Vincenzo Giustianiani, Gerrit van Honthorst’s important patron. Giustiniani owned another picture of the same subject painted after 1570 by the Genoese master Luca Cambiaso. Van Honthorst absorbed the styles of the Italian masters during his ten years in Rome, and painters such as Cambiaso and Caravaggio became a stylistic source, resulting in sparsely lit compositions devoid of unnecessary details.

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