The painting depicts the episode of the Passion from the Gospel of John (19.5) which sees Christ undergo another moment of derision before being crucified.
Christ has just been arrested and flagellated by Jews, who have placed a crown of thorns on his head as a sign of shame towards the person who proclaimed himself the King of Kings. Humiliated and destroyed by pain, Christ looks down from a balustrade. His hands are tied with a large rope and in one hand he is holding a stick. His long wavy hair is disheveled, while his deeply tired and suffering expression is emphasized by his empty gaze. Next to him is old Pontius Pilate, who shows Christ to the crowd, as an object of ridicule, pointing him with his hand showing an almost amused smile on his face, which is a detail that doesn´t follow the traditional Gospel story.
In fact, Pontius Pilate was the Roman governor of Judea, and according to the Gospels, he did not believe that Jesus was guilty, so much that he tried to stop his arrest and prevent people and priests to punish him, simply sentencing him only to public disgrace and flagellation. For this reason, after having tortured him, he showed wounded Christ to the crowd and pronounced the famous words “Ecce Homo” meaning “behold the man”, as if to publicly declare that the punishment had been completed.
However, this was not enough for the Jews and priests, who demanded his death. Pilate, therefore, reluctantly took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd, declaring: “I am innocent of this man’s blood. It is your responsibility,” as Matthew writes in his Gospel. Finally, he signed the condemnation of Christ’s crucifixion, not because he was cruel but because he felt pressured.
Battistello Caracciolo makes a strongly dramatic interpretation of the episode with extreme realism in the expressive rendering and the wounds that cover the body of Christ, accentuated by the compositional cut with the figures very close to the viewer. In fact, Christ and Pilate in the foreground occupy almost all the space on the canvas. The figures emerge from a dark background and they are illuminated by a transversal light that leaves everything else in shade.
The work dates around 1620s’ and it is strongly influenced by Caravaggio’s innovation in the use of light, which accentuates the tragic drama of the scene, and the realism that can be seen in the crudest details, such as the blood on the balustrade on which Christ is leaning.
Son of Cesare Caracciolo, Giovanni Battista – known as Battistello – was trained in his hometown Naples, under Baroque painter Fabrizio Santafede. When fugitive Michelangelo Merisi, also known as Caravaggio, arrived in the city, he influenced profoundly and definitively the Neapolitan figurative culture and especially Battistello, who was among the first Neapolitan followers of Caravaggio.
Caracciolo was just a few years younger than Merisi and he absorbed his concrete and dramatic naturalism, the gloomy luminosity and the never regular compositional cuts of Caravaggio, with figures that emerge from the dark background, often illuminated by a lateral source of light.
In 1614 Battistello traveled to Rome, where he painted altarpieces which he often signed with the initials B, CA or G and A, B for Battistello and CA for Caracciolo with the B being always smaller than the other letters. These works were still affected by Caravaggio’s influence, but over the time he was also inspired by Mannerism and Baroque which were taking over the figurative culture soon after Caravaggio’s death which took place in July 1610. The great painted frescoes of Neapolitan churches show how Caracciolo had assimilated all these different tendencies. These artworks include the Cherubini of Monte di Pietà (1601), the Scenes of the Life of St. Simon Stock and Carmelite saints at Santa Teresa degli Studi (1617), in addition to the Scenes of the Life of St. Januarius in Naples at the chapel dedicated to the patron saint of the city in the church of San Martino. A few years later, in 1618, Battistello moved to Genoa, then to Florence and Rome. There he became even closer to the Classicism that Annibale Carracci had already introduced between the end of the 16th century and the beginning of the 17th century, and this tendency finally won over Caravaggio’s naturalism, opening the way to Baroque.
Once he returned to Naples, Caracciolo dedicated himself especially to the decoration of the churches and religious institutes. He died in his hometown in December 1635.
The collection of Capodimonte has the origins in the refined and elegant collection of the Farnese family. The first assemblage was formed in 1534 thanks to the initiative of Alessandro Farnese (1520-1589) and Pope Paul III, both interested in ancient objects (conserved today in the Museo Archeologico Nazionale of Naples) and the most important artists of the period.
In 1734 Charles III of Spain took the throne and inherited mother Elisabetta Farnese’s collection which was moved from Rome to Parma during the 18th century. In this occasion he felt the need to find a suitable location for the collection.
The construction of the Capodimonte building on the hill started in 1738 and it was used both as a residence and as a gallery. The place was first only visited by famous persons, such as Johann Winckelmann, Antonio Canova and Marquis de Sade.
The museum was inaugurated in 1957, thanks to the insistence of Ferdinando Bologna Raffaello Causa, opening to the public extensive collection of 2900 paintings, 150 sculptures, 17700 objects of decorative art, 26000 drawings, extended over 12000 square meters and divided into 114 rooms.
During the 18th century, the collection was enriched with the works commissioned by the sovereigns of the Bourbon family, but the lootings by French troops in 1799 marked the beginning of decline as its function as a museum.
In the 19th century the building was mostly used as a residence. French general Joachim Murat lived in the building with his wife and they brought new furnishing and interior decorations to Capodimonte.
Only after the arrival of the Savoys and thanks to Annibale Sacco, the new era of the museum started: the art objects which were spread in various residences of the Bourbon family were collected and moved to Capodimonte and there was a new attention to contemporary figurative production of art.
For this reason, there are two main groups in the collection. The Farnese collection includes the portraits of Cardinal Alessandro Farnese, Giorgio Vasari and Andrea del Sarto by Raphael, portrait of Bernardo de’ Rossi by Lorenzo Lotto, portraits of Paul III and Paul III with his Grandsons Alessandro and Ottavio Farnese and Danae by Titian, Portrait of Antea by Parmigianino and the cartoons by Michelangelo and Leonardo Da Vinci and pictorial cycles of Carracci, donated in 1600 by Fulvio Orsini. The second collection includes the historical pieces of Neapolitan art from circa 1200 to 1700. Among them are the works by Simone Martini and Colantonio’s St. Jerome, an example of the lively and rich Aragon period, and the works of foreign influence such as Pinturicchio’s Assumption of the Virgin. The 17th century was considered as the golden era of Neapolitan art, influenced by the works of Caravaggio and his followers. From this era there are Caravaggio’s Flagellation from 1606-1607, Ribera’s Drunken Silenus, Artemisia Gentileschi’s Judith and Holofernes, Guido Reni’s Atalanta and Hippomenes and Mattia Preti’s St. Sebastian.
The current layout of the museum is a result of the series of restorations in the 1980s’ and 1990s’ which determined the division of the collection onto three floors. The ground floor includes the educational rooms, the mezzanine floor holds the department of drawings and prints, the Farnese collection, the Borgia collection and the royal apartment are in the first floor and finally on the second floor the Neapolitan gallery, the D’Avalos collection, the 19th century gallery and the photographic gallery.