Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Caravaggio. Died on this day in 1610

July 18, 1610. Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (29 September 1571 - 18 July 1610) was an Italian artist active in Rome, Naples, Malta, and Sicily between 1593 and 1610. His paintings, which combine a realistic observation of the human state, both physical and emotional, with a dramatic use of lighting, had a formative influence on the Baroque school of painting. In this image: A photographer and a cameraman take a picture of Caravaggio's painting "The calling of Saints Peter and Andrew" in Rome, Monday, Nov. 20, 2006. The painting, owned by Queen Elizabeth II, languished for years in a dusty storeroom before being identified as the work of Italian master Caravaggio, on show at the Gate Termini Art Gallery in Rome.

We know a lot about this life and much of it involves the police. This was a man with a severe case of emotional incontinence, someone known to the law in more than one state for bouts of violence, but also a man whose genius and talent for innovation was recognized by the very same people who had the power to destroy him. 

The art historian Michael Fried's new book, After Caravaggio, which has just been published by Yale University Press, looks at the painter's followers and the long shadow he cast over the 17th century. 

It follows Fried's 2010 publication The Moment of Caravaggio, where he focused on how the Italian Baroque artist propelled the emergence of the "gallery picture" as a distinct genre that moved away from traditional altarpieces and religious commissions. 

"Part of the larger argument of both After Caravaggio and The Moment of Caravaggio is that in the first decades of the 1600s, Rome saw the rise of marvellous private galleries owned by nobles and cardinals, who bought and commissioned works by artists like Caravaggio," Fried says. "Artists became aware of the natural competition that took place in those galleries, because if you hang pictures alongside one another, they will fight among themselves to find out which is strongest. Caravaggio was the big winner here." 

The new book elaborates on many of the themes that have animated Fried's work since his spirited attack on Minimalism in his 1967 essay Art and Objecthood. But this new work, he says, is not an attempt to lay an absolute bedrock for this history of Modernism. "The direction I always want to go is not, here is something happening for the first time—there's nothing that ever begins like that, there is always something before. But instead, if you think about these pictures this way, this is how you can make sense of them." 

Perhaps the last painting he produced, the stunning David with the Head of Goliath, painted while on the run in 1610 just before he succumbed to fever, says it all: David is a portrait of the young artist while Goliath’s head brings us Caravaggio brought low by his loving and living. Such is the stuff of legend.

At the National Gallery here

Review of a number of new books on him here

Helibrun Time line of art. Baroque art here

Caravaggio and his followers here

1 comment:

Carla Ives said...

What can you say about Carvaggio except that he was a genius? He didn't live very long. It begs the question of what he would have produced had he lived. I love the David and Goliath portrait, plus the calling of Saints Peter and Andrew. I like most of his work, actually, and all the pieces depicted here are wonderful.