The Supper at Emmaus

The Supper at Emmaus

The Supper at Emmaus
Cornelis de Vos, Flemish, 1584-1651
Circa 17th century
Oil on canvas
56 1/2 in. x 69 in.

The Supper at Emmaus was a very popular subject among 17th century painters; it was reproduced by most of the well-known Baroque artists including Rubens, Caravaggio and Velasquez.

The Supper at Emmaus is a narrative historical painting depicting an incident in the life of Christ and the saints, placing them in a terrestrial plane as opposed to a spiritual interpretation.

The story is taken from the Gospel of St. Luke, 24: 28-35 describing Christ's appearance after his Resurrection to two of his disciples, walking with them on the road to Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. Overcome with sadness and grief on the death of Jesus, they failed to recognize him. As night drew near they invited him to stay and share an evening meal. As they sat together at the table, Jesus took the bread, blessed and broke it and began handing it to them. Only by this act did they recognize him and he suddenly vanished from their sight.

De Vos has placed the setting for this subject in a humble atmosphere of a country inn. His goal was to register the surprise of the disciples as they came to understand that Christ was with them once again. It is amply demonstrated in the facial expression and gesture of the centrally-placed apostle. It is also masterfully indicated by the abrupt backward movement of the disciple sitting nearest to the viewer, on the left; he seems to lean away from the table while shifting his weight onto the staff he carries, as if he were about to stand up suddenly from the unexpected miracle placed before his eye

The colors of the painting are subdued, except for the delicately embroidered table liner under the radiant white tablecloth and the scarlet drapery which envelopes Jesus' lap and falls gently downward. Beside his feet, at the very far right corner, a basket is placed, holding carefully modeled culinary implements displayed against a crisp white linen napkin.

Christ gazes upward to the heavens, as a halo of shining light surrounds his head. De Vos added the elements of Christian symbolism as well, with the placement of a fish on the table, the earliest representation of Christianity – also the waters of Baptism and the Resurrection. On the table he has painted a red pomegranate, the emblem of the hope of immortality and of eternal life, and just under the table, a dog, to embody the symbol of fidelity and faithfulness to Christ's teachings.

Private collection, Belgium, since ca. 1960
Galerie Hoogsteder, The Hague, since 1984, until sale in 1985

Cornelis de Vos

Cornelis de Vos was born in Hulst, in the region now known as West Flanders, Belgium, in 1584. Several years later, his parents moved to Antwerp and it was here that his artistic endeavors began. In 1608 he was admitted to the painters guild of St. Luke at Antwerp, serving as its dean from 1619-1620. He married in 1617 and successful career until his death in 1651. His brother, Paul de Vos, was a painter well known for his treatment of animal portraiture. Their sister was married to Frans Snyders, the landscape painter. All three men often served as assistants to Rubens. Under the master's directorship, he worked on the decorations for the triumphal entry into Antwerp of Cardinal Infante Ferdinand (1635) and the series of pictures made for the Torre de la Parada, Philip IV's hunting lodge in Spain (1637).

Exhibition History:
Knights of Columbus Museum
A Gift of Faith: Knights of Columbus Religious Art Collection
Aug. 1 - Sept. 30, 2001, New Haven, Conn.