The Italian consul general behind next month's Asian debut of one of Caravaggio's masterpieces spoke of the city's growing demand for culture yesterday - at a media preview held, in true Hong Kong style, among the big-name brands of Admiralty's glitzy Pacific Place shopping mall.
Organisers said work by local artists would be on show next to the classical Western work, juxtaposing cultures and giving a local context to the Italian artwork.
Supper at Emmaus, painted in 1606, will be on view in a free exhibition called "Light and Shadows - Caravaggio, the Italian Baroque Master" at the Asia Society Hong Kong from March 12 to April 13.
The painting, with an insured value of about HK$640 million, is on loan from the Pinacoteca di Brera gallery in Milan, an initiative promoted by the Italian consulate in Hong Kong - which brought another Italian treasure, Venus by Florentine Renaissance master Sandro Botticelli, to Hong Kong last year.
"Caravaggio is completely opposite to Botticelli," said Alessandra Schiavo, Italy's consul general in Hong Kong and Macau. She said that while Botticelli represented a "perfect world" from the Renaissance period, Caravaggio's works depicted ordinary or even marginalised characters.
The painting that will be on display in Hong Kong has been described as a more subdued version of the artist's 1601 painting of the same name, housed at the National Gallery in London.
Supper at Emmaus depicts Jesus Christ revealing himself to his disciples in the town of Emmaus after his resurrection, an event described in Luke's Gospel.
The painting was said to be created when Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio was on the run, accused of murdering a young man named Ranuccio Tomassoni, and the low point of his life was reflected in the painting's darker mood.
Schiavo said the Christ portrayed in the 1606 version cut a more weary figure than the 1601 version. She added that there were only 17 Caravaggio paintings left in existence.
"There is a growing cultural demand in Hong Kong," she said. "We are ready to share our national treasure," Schiavo added.
According to the exhibition curator, Chinese University's fine arts professor Frank Vigneron, works by Hong Kong artists Chow Chun-fai, So Hing-keung, Tsang Kin-wah and Wucius Wong will be shown alongside the Italian masterpiece.
The Hong Kong Jockey Club Charities Trust is sponsoring the exhibition to the tune of HK$4.82 million. Asia Society Hong Kong will extend its opening hours and run a series of education programmes during the exhibition.