The link between The Taking of Christ painted by Michelangelo Mersi de Caravaggio in 1602, the Rotunda Hospital and the 1916 Rising, in terms of its rediscovery and subject matter, is a unique chapter in the rich biography of this masterpiece.
Captain Percival Lea-Wilson, District Inspector, Royal Irish Constabulary was assassinated on the orders of Michael Collins in Gorey, Wexford in June 1920 – allegedly because of his mistreatment of republican prisoners while they were being held in custody in the Rotunda Gardens after the 1916 surrender.
Distraught in her bereavement, his widow Marie Lea-Wilson turned for spiritual guidance to Dublin-based Jesuit, Fr Thomas Finlay. In recognition of his kindness and support to her, she gifted this oil painting to the Jesuit Community in Leeson Street, Dublin. Purchased in Edinburgh after the death of her husband, it was believed to be the work of a minor Dutch artist, Gerard Von Honhurst. During the 1990s, Sergio Benedetti, senior conservator at the National Gallery of Ireland recognised the painting that had hung in the Jesuits’ dining room for sixty years and that had been missing for two centuries as Caravaggio’s The Taking of Christ.
Whether the subject matter of the painting – the mistreatment of the arrested Jesus by his captors in the Garden of Gethsemane – had a deeper personal significance for Dr Lea-Wilson, in the context of the alleged behaviour of her husband in the Rotunda Gardens in 1916 – adds a fascinating psychological and symbolic dimension to the painting.
Marie Lea-Wilson was born in Charleville, Co Cork in 1887. She married Percival-Lea Wilson in 1914. After his death she went on to study Medicine in Trinity College Dublin, graduating in 1928 at the age of 41. Later she specialised in Paediatric Medicine and practiced at the National Children’s Hospital, Harcourt Street, Dublin. Dr Marie Lea-Wilson died in Dublin in 1971 at the age of 84 years. She never re-married. The Taking of Christ is on indefinite loan to The National Gallery of Ireland from the Jesuit Community.