Supper at Emmaus
1530-1540 (Renaissance period)
Venetian (Italian Artist)
This Supper at Emmaus is remarkable for the presence of a black Egyptian at Christ’s right hand.
After his Resurrection, Christ appeared to two disciples at an inn in the town of Emmaus (Luke 24). Depicted here is the moment just before they realize that the wise stranger who “breaks bread” with them is Christ. The innkeeper stands, while the disciples are identified by walking staffs.
The biblical story does not note other companions. However, here they are joined by a black soldier, an Egyptian as identified by the characteristic red, wooly headdress. He leans toward Christ, apparently passing him a dish. Seated and a soldier, he cannot be a servant. Egyptian soldiers were often in Venice with diplomatic missions.
The man’s inclusion conveys the universality of Christ’s promise of salvation.
This is thought to be the earliest existing European image of a black African at Christ’s right hand.
Source: The Walters Art Museum
Notice that the black man is identified here not as a Moor but an Egyptian.
Here are some variations of this scene…
Venetian artist Marco Marziale (1440-1507) painted this work in the year 1506. It can be found today at the Gallerie dell’Accademia in Venice, Italy.
Here is the description:
In this painting, taut physiognomy, distraught colour, and popular theatrically mingles Carpaccio and German art. The breaking of bread by the resurrected, undisclosed Christ renews the sacrament of the Eucharist in the unpretentious but festively decorated tavern.
Source: Web Gallery of Art
A year later, Marziale created this version. The difference is striking. The moor no longer stands at the table beside Jesus here.
Source: Wikipedia Commons
This painting was created by Paolo Veronese (1528–1588) in 1559.
After his resurrection, Christ appears several times to his disciples. Here we have a cameo glimpse to the left into the scene of Christ meeting the pilgrims on the road to Emmaus; the episode continues in the foreground of the composition, where during the meal Jesus lifts his eyes to the sky at the moment of blessing the bread. This divine gesture leads to his being recognized by two astonished apostles.
Veronese doesn’t limit himself to traditional iconography. He situates the miracle in a palace instead of an inn, before a door with a triangular pediment flanked by fluted columns. Above all, he introduces into the middle of this religious scene a family whose members show little interest in the event. The contrast is all the more marked by the mixing of antique dress with the rich Venetian costumes in the fashion of the period…
This painting, whose patron is unknown, is the artist’s first large religious work and a precursor to the scenic effects of The Wedding Feast at Cana.
Source: Louvre Museum
Here is another description from the Web Gallery of Art:
The magnificent decorative style, developed in the Villa Maser, was taken even further in the 1560s, in a series of large paintings on the common theme of suppers at which Christ was present. Veronese used the stories from the Gospels as an excuse to stage sumptuous feasts in sixteenth-century dress inside grandiose and theatrical architectural perspectives, producing realistic representations of social life at the highest level.
The Supper in Emmaus (Louvre, Paris), the Supper in the House of Simon (Galleria Sabauda, Turin), and the Marriage at Cana (Louvre, Paris) belong to the series.
Here is the Marriage at Cana for a comparison:
Notice the servant next to Jesus. There are others in the work who are ‘black’ but he is not.
Veronese made this one in between 1565 and 1570.
Source: Museum Boijmans
The “Martyrdom of Saint Justina”, another work by Paolo Veronese, can be found at the Uffizi Palace in Florence, Italy. It was created in 1573 and here we can see a moor wearing the same red hat.
Also seen here are two other moors with a different set of headdresses..
This Martyrdom of Saint Justina, the young Christian patrician of Padova, who was martyred in the 4th century, is today thought to be from Veronese’s mature years during which sumptuous colour suggestions and a sophisticated theatrical atmosphere predominate. Previously in Roberto Canonici’s collection in Ferrara, it was acquired by Cardinal Leopoldo from the Florentine merchant and collector Paulo del Sera in 1675. The work is documented in the Tribune of the Uffizi from 1675 to 1769.
Source: Google Art Project
You can see the similarity in the hat worn by the figure beside Jesus here in this one by Titian (1490-1576) around 1530.
Web Gallery of Art Description:
The painting’s first owners were the Maffei family from Verona, where Titian painted an altarpiece for the Cathedral, and its sonorous gravity and the way the colours traverse the spectrum like a progression of organ chords may take its tone from nearby Brescia, especially the art of Moretto. Indeed, Titian may have borrowed the striking orange-yellow of the page’s costume from the similarly placed disciple in Moretto’s own Supper at Emmaus of around 1526, which originally hung in the Church of St Luke in Brescia and now in the Tosio-Martinengo Museum. The disciple in green leaning back is modeled on the Judas in Leonardo’s Last Supper. The realism of the still-life is also somewhat in the Lombard taste and anticipates not only Caravaggio but also the sacramental realism of Zurbaran.
Check out the crest of the Holy Roman Empire on the wall as well.
The work can be found at the Louvre Museum.
This work, called “The Kitchen Maid”, was painted by Diego Velazquez (1599-1660) and is dated 1617-1618. Unlike the rest of the Italian artists featured here, Velazquez was from Spain.
Regarded as the greatest Spanish artist of his time, Velázquez began his career in his native Seville and later became the leading artist at the court of King Philip IV in Madrid. This painting is widely considered to be Velázquez’s earliest known work. The artist painted Christ appearing to his disciples at Emmaus in the left background. In the foreground he depicted a Moorish servant working in the kitchen. The inversion of the religious and the worldly subjects was inspired by Flemish painters, including Pieter Aertsen.
Source: National Gallery of Ireland
It wasn’t until a cleaning of the painting in 1933 that the depiction of Jesus’ supper at Emmaus on the wall behind the main figure was revealed.
This later “Kitchen Scene” version at the Art Institute of Chicago demonstrates what the painting must have looked like for many years.
Believe it or not, Velazquez himself had a Moorish servant (enslaved assistant).
When we look at these works of art that borrow heavily from Christian allegory, we often lose sight of the fact that the people of color who are portrayed are not just some expression of the artist’s imagination but many times, they are based on actual people from their society who were invited to be models in studio.
Juan de Pareja (1610 – 1670) became an artist in his own right, and in 1654 he was freed by Velázquez.
Read all about him from the Metropolitan Museum of Art here:
This painting believed to have been made by Vittore Carpaccio (1465-1620), for the Venetian noble Girolamo Priuli, in 1513 and hangs in the San Salvador church in Venice, Italy.
You can see how a moor is depicted wearing a turban here and he replaces the black Egyptian from the very first painting we looked at. Apparently, this one came first and is the oldest of all the paintings we have posted here.
Also available for viewing in black and white:
Read about the church and its history here.
Carpaccio depicted moors in some of his other paintings as seen here:
According to the Web Gallery of Art:
…the Torella coat-of-arms probably means that the two ladies are members of that Venetian family.
Traces of hinges on both of the works, suggest that they were actually meant to be connected as shown here and the original wooden panel was a painted door.
Now…if Jesus really were to appear to these artists and their society as he was, would they even recognize him?
From what the bible says about Jesus, chances are, he would have reappeared to the disciples after his death more so as the humbled servant in the background and not the glowing man of beauty that they would be expecting and as they have created in their own image.