For sixty years a painting hung in the dining room of the Jesuit house on Dublin’s Leeson Street. People passed by it day in, and day out without paying much attention to it.
In the early 1920’s by Marie Lea-Wilson bought the painting in Edinburgh for about $8. She gave it to the Jesuits.
One day, someone from the community contacted the National Gallery of Ireland about assessing the works of art in the Jesuit House.
Senior conservator Sergio Benedetti visited the house and noticed the potential in the dark painting hanging in the dining room.
Even though it was obscured by discoloured varnish, he recognised the subject and composition as those of the ‘lost’ Caravaggio painting.
Three years of meticulous research, analysis and consultation with international experts followed to authenticate and conserve the masterpiece.
On 16 November 1993, The Taking of Christ was publicly displayed in the exhibition Caravaggio: the Master Revealed in the National Gallery of Ireland.
In the accompanying catalogue, Sergio wrote: “That morning in August, 1990, leaving the House of the Jesuit Fathers in Leeson Street, excited by what I thought I had just seen, I could hardly have imagined that just three years later, I would see my beliefs realised with an exhibition.”
The Christmas season is recognised by its glitz and glamour, bright lights and sparkle on Christmas trees.
Shopping malls are alive with colour, with carols playing through the public address system and frazzled shoppers. Children visit Father Christmas with gift wishes they hope Mum and Dad hear also.
There is much movement of people, some shopping, others attending end-of-year functions in bars and restaurants.
The energy is palpable and infectious!
The “reason for the Season” may go unrecognised in all the excitement and activity.
It is not only the Caravaggio painting that is passed unnoticed.
In John’s Gospel for this Sunday we read, “Among you stands one whom you do not know.” (Jn 1: 26).
Jesus, the Word-made-flesh was not to be found in a royal palace, nor a richly adorned temple, rather in a feeding trough of animals.
The Word-made-flesh among us today may be hidden by discoloured varnish and grubby paintwork.
The invitation may well be to include in our Christmas adoration the dark corners of the city I live in, and one is welcome to include both the outer and inner city.