Caravaggio masterpiece recovered in Berlin

Judas’s kiss again sees the light of day after stolen from museum.

July 4, 2010 23:27
2 minute read.
Carvaggio painting

311_Judas last kiss. (photo credit: (AP/Federal Office of Criminal Investigation))


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German and Ukrainian police officers joined forces to retrieve a painting by Baroque master Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (1571-1610) that was stolen from a museum in Ukraine two years ago, INTERPOL said in a statement released Saturday evening.

The painting, known as “The Taking of Christ,” or “The Kiss of Judas,” was recovered by police as four men tried to sell it in Berlin.

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Three Ukrainians and a Russian were arrested on Friday, Germany’s Federal Criminal Police Office said. INTERPOL said that at least 20 others were arrested in Ukraine following the resurfacing of the stolen masterpiece and that the incident exposed an alleged international art theft gang.

The painting, worth several million euros, was stolen from the Museum of Western and Eastern Art in Odessa, Ukraine, in July 2008 by thieves who entered the museum at night and cut the painting out of its frame.

Back in 2008, the theft was lamented in Ukraine as a cultural disaster.

Following the painting’s confiscation by police, the head of INTERPOL said the organization “is very pleased at the recovery of this important work of art… This operation is a credit to law enforcement authorities in Germany and Ukraine and once again demonstrates the power and effectiveness of international cooperation between police in obtaining information and working together to identify, locate and apprehend criminals around the world.”

In the painting, Caravaggio used his typical dramatic light against a pitch-black background and violent gestures to depict the exact moment when Jesus of Nazareth is kissed by Judas, the disciple who betrayed him and turned him over to the Roman rulers of the Holy Land.

While the face of Jesus bears a tormented expression, it conveys a quiet resignation to his fate. But Caravaggio ingeniously painted another figure right behind Jesus and facing in the opposite direction, creating a Janus-like two-figure ensemble. The second figure is screaming in agony and stretching its right hand, as if attempting to escape from the painting. The device serves to express two conflicting aspects of the emotional impact of Judas of Iscariot’s betrayal.

The painting is severely damaged, with vertical cracks along its entire width, apparently from having been carelessly rolled or folded in five segments following the theft.

Another, intact version of the piece hangs in the National Gallery of Ireland, in Dublin. It has long been thought a copy but was recognized as an original in the 1990s.

AP contributed to this report.

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