Saturday, September 30, 2017

Caravaggio, Born September 28, 1571

A portrait of the Italian painter Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio 

I might be a day late but I didn't forget Caravaggio’s birthday - there were two wonderful previews this week, one at SFMOMA and the other at the CJM which I was privilged enough to attend but more on them later. 

His life was tempestuous and his art influenced artists for centuries. Born Michelangelo Amrisi in Milan when it was part of the Spanish Empire he trained there before moving to Rome in his 20's, when Rome was the epicenter of art in Italy and indeed, in Europe at the time.

In Rome, he developed a considerable name as an artist, and as a violent, touchy and provocative man. A brawl led to a death sentence for murder and forced him to flee to Naples. He killed a man in a bungled castration attempt. A documentary by Andrew Graham-Dixon, one of the world's leading art historians disclosed that the killing followed a dispute between the two over Fillide Melandroni, a female prostitute, whose services both men sought.

In Naples, he again established himself as one of the most prominent Italian painters of his generation. He traveled in 1607 to Malta and on to Sicily, and pursued a papal pardon for his sentence. In 1609 he returned to Naples, where he was involved in a violent clash; his face was disfigured and rumours of his death circulated. Questions about his mental state arose from his erratic and bizarre behavior. He died in 1610 under uncertain circumstances while on his way from Naples to Rome. Reports stated that he died of a fever, but suggestions have been made that he was murdered or that he died of lead poisoning. He was only 38 when he died.

Questions about his sexuality have been asked since he first started painting his disturbing works of young street boys, obviously for sale to the rough trade of Baroque Rome. As Jonathan Jones wrote in his article in the Guardian," In my mind, it is the risk of Caravaggio's sexual passion for male flesh that gives his art its incomparable kick of reality; Caravaggio's paintings go way beyond "realism", the 19th-century art movement that tried to show the world as it truly is."

Sick Bacchus 1503. Wikipedia Foundation

The Lute Player, 1506 Wiki Art 

Penitent Magdelene. Wiki Art. 1507

The Fortune Teller
John the Baptist
From Jonathan Jones: in Caravaggio's painting St John the Baptist in the Capitoline Museum, Rome. Here he hugs a ram while sitting on luxurious red and white sheets. Golden light bathes the youth's legs while a fall of shadow leads the eye, once again, to his penis – another pose based on one of Michelangelo's nudes in the Sistine Chapel.

Last two Paintings:

On his lust, talent and power: Caravaggio's sexuality is at the heart of his genius. His paintings are acts of defiance in an age when the wrong kind of love could get you executed. This fact has shaped perceptions of his art for centuries. He was virtually forgotten in the respectable Victorian age, when his florid young men were just too much for corseted psyches to take, then rediscovered in the 20th century. . . .

1 comment:

Carla Ives said...

I knew Caravaggio's name and some of his works, but not his violent history or the apparent controversy over his sexuality. His paintings of young men are excellent but, then, most of his work is. He displays fantastic realism, more so in the male figures. Maybe he was and maybe he wasn't. I doubt it matters now. We are left with his brilliant works. Should be enough.