The painting depicts one of the most famous episodes of the Passion of Christ of the Gospels. Jesus was captured by Romans because he had proclaimed himself the king of kings in his sermon, and before being crucified, he was laughed at by solders, who tortured and humiliated him.
The scene is dominated by the figure of young Christ with a sad and resigned look in the moment of his extreme sacrifice. He is wearing a red robe, while one of the Roman soldiers stands in front of him and looks at him. The man holds a lantern in his left hand, which illuminates Christ’s suffering face. His hands are tied, a crown of horns has been placed on his head and there is a rope around his neck which the soldier seems to be pulling with his right hand.
The background is completely dark and illuminated only by the light of the lantern, which reveals the red face of the Roman soldier, who is probably drunk.
The two figure occupy almost entirely the scene – with Christ’s body slightly bent because he is pulled by the rope – and they emerge from the background only thanks to the light of the lantern, which also illuminates their clothes, creating a very intimate effect.
The influence of Caravaggio is quite evident for the choice of setting the scene in a dark background, without any details or references and for placing the light almost at the center of the canvas, making it the true protagonist of the painting, which illuminates the two figures. However, for this choice to illuminate the scene by using an artificial light source, such as the lantern, placed well in sight, the artist seems to take influence from Caravaggio’s followers. Caravaggio, in fact, always illuminated his paintings by using an external and often natural source of light, like a window. Palazzo Pretorio’s work seems to take influence from the works of Gerrit van Hontorst, who treated the light in a similar way, even if his works were generally less gloomy.
Therefore, it is not easy to identify the artist who made the painting, which dates back to the early thirties of the 17th century. It was certainly made by a high-quality artistic personality, close to Dutch and French Caravaggeschi painters, although he was autonomous. The critics have suggested he could have been French artist Trophime Bigot, although this artist tends to be more rigid and schematic than the master who made this painting, who could have been the same person who painted the work with the same subject in the chapel of the Passion in the church of Santa Maria in Aquiro, which has the same remarkable quality.
The painting comes from Spedale della Misericordia e Dolce in Prato and it came to the civic collections in 1858, following the suppression of religious bodies and institutes during the unification of Italy.
Not much is known of the life and artistic activity of this painter, known as the Master of Candlelight for his preference of Caravaggio-style scenes, with dark tones and intimate atmosphere, illuminated only by artificial light.
The critics have identified him as French painter, who was active in Rome between 1620 and 1634 and then in Provence. According to some studies, he was Trophime Bigot, born in Arles 1579 and died in Avignon in 1620 but the criticism is not unanimously in agreement with this identification. Recent discovery of documents has revealed that he may have been Italian painter called Giacomo Massa, who was paid for some paintings for the church of Santa Maria in Aquiro in Rome in 1634. He was certainly an artist who stayed in Italy, probably in Rome, where he saw the works of Caravaggio and met the large group of French artists who followed his naturalistic painting, characterized by strong luminous contrasts.
Prato’s Museo Civico is situated in the Palazzo Pretorio, in Piazza del Comune at the city center.
The first documents of the Palazzo date back to the end of the 13th century, when captain of the Guelfs, Francesco de’ Frescobaldi decided to purchase the building already owned by Pipini, to house the foreign magistrates, the court and the prisons. Between 1334 and 1338 the building was enlarged by Florentine craftsmen and the medieval appearance was changed. During the following centuries and especially in the 18th century a series of improvements were implemented finally until the late 19th century, when the building came under the demolition threat.
In 1912 an important restoration work led to the opening of the Galleria Comunale, which was previously housed in the Palazzo del Comune. The last restoration started in 1998 and it was finished in 2013. In September of the same year the museum reopened with the exhibition “From Donatello to Lippi. Officina pratese”.
The historical origins of the museum are linked to the decision of the grand duke of Tuscany, Leopold II, who wanted to create a collection of paintings for the students of the city’s drawing school (1788).
The collection was enriched thanks to various donations and purchases, until the official inauguration of the first exhibition organized by Giovanni Papini in 1912.
In 1926, thanks to Angiolo Badiani’s initiative, the State museum received their first assemblage of plaster casts by local sculptor Lorenzo Bartolini and in 1954 the museum was reopened with new layout, designed by Giuseppe Marchini.
In the late 1980s’ the gallery was closed for restoration work. During these years of improvements, the museum purchased the Crucifixion by Filippino Lippi and the altarpieces by Santi di Tito and Alessandro Allori were donated to the museum by Angela Riblet.
The museum holds many artworks, ranging from the Middle Ages to the 19th century. Among these there are the polyptych with the Stories of the Cintola by Bernardo Daddi, polyptychs by Giovanni da Milano and Lorenzo Monaco, Filippo Lippi’s Madonna del Ceppo and the Adoration of the Child and Vincenzo Ferrer, Filippino Lippi’s Annunciation with St. Julian, Mattia Preti’s Repudiation of Agar and the Cabins by Ardengo Soffici.
The collection includes also an important assemblage of sculptures of the most important artists of the time, among them Andrea della Robbia and Benedetto Buglioni.