Pilate, who is dressed in the garb of a 17th century official, looks towards us and displays a downcast Christ who is already crowned with thorns and in the process of being robed like a king in a mocking display.
The painting is characteristic of Caravaggio’s mature period with dramatic modelling on the figure of Christ which throws the torso into high relief against the flat and sombre background of dark shadow.
The figures are very naturalistic creating a strongly charged feeling of pathos as the subdued Christ accepts, in resignation, the attentions of his torturer whose face in turn betrays feelings of sympathy alongside the ostensible malice.
Famous while he was alive the 16th century, Italian painter Caravaggio slipped into obscurity after his death and his importance and influence on subsequent developments, especially in Baroque art, was only fully evaluated in the 20th century.
His paintings generally concentrate on closely studied figurative forms rendered in dramatic illumination with high contrast from directed light sources accentuating the highlights and deepening the shadows, a process termed ‘chiaroscuro’, which adds drama to an image and picks out the central compositional elements by means of spotlight.
Caravaggio honed this technique to the height of achievement.
After he moved to Rome he found instant success with his first public commission, the ‘Martyrdom of Saint Matthew’, which ensured a constant stream of further work and kept his prospects high.
However, he was a volatile character, erasable, febrile and constantly involving himself in acrimony and affray. Such a temperament eventually led him to kill a young man in mysterious circumstances.
Caravaggio fled to Naples, pursued by the law, and later died of a fever while awaiting a longed for pardon which was to be arranged by high placed allies.
Caravaggio’s output which has survived is limited to about 80 paintings.