HONG KONG – If Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (1571-1610) ever had a dark side, it could be best appreciated through masterpieces like Bacchus (circa1595) and The Supper at Emmaus (1605-1606). While the former can be seen at the Uffizi Galleries in Florence, the latter is currently on exhibit at Asia Society Hong Kong Centre, for the first time in Asia, thanks to the loan from the Pinacoteca di Brera Museum in Milan.

Caravaggio's The Supper at Emmaus, on view for the first time in Asia at the Asia Society Hong Kong Centre.

Although Caravaggio was famous during his lifetime, he was jailed on several occasions, vandalized his own apartment and even had a death warrant issued for him by the Pope. Caravaggio was cast away from the hall of fame almost immediately after his mysterious death, and it was not until the 20th century that his importance to the development of Western art was rediscovered, thus inspiring the late British film director Derek Jarman to vividly imagine the artist’s life in his film Caravaggio (1986).

Artistically speaking, Caravaggio developed rather realistic depictions of the human state, both physical and emotional, highlighted by his dramatic use of contrasts and lighting. He undoubtably had a formative influence on Baroque painting. Caravaggio painted two versions of The Supper at Emmaus, and this later one utilizes muted colours and darkened shadows, showing those expansive theatrical gestures more naturally. The fluidity of Caravaggio’s brushwork has also become somewhat calligraphic, as seen increasingly in his post-Roman work.

Caravaggio's The Supper at Emmaus, 1605-1606.

Interestingly, the innkeeper's wife, depicted on the far right, looks like a last-minute addition to the painting. Her right hand is badly drawn, as is the ear of the disciple on the right. Perhaps Caravaggio chose to spend more time on the two disciples recognising in amazement the resurrected Jesus. 

Caravaggio's masterpiece is currently displayed alongside contemporary works by four Hong Kong artists, including Chow Chun-fai, So Hing-keung, Tsing King-wah and Wucius Wong, to illustrate how Caravaggio’s techniques have been adopted into a contemporary context.

Chow Chun-fai's re-envisionment of Caravaggio's The Supper at Emmaus.

The Hong Kong Jockey Club Charities Trust Presents Light and Shadows – Caravaggio: The Italian Baroque Master at the Asia Society Hong Kong Centre. The exhibition will be on view until 13 April 2014.