24 February 2017

Caravaggio - A Restless Soul

From the series - Little Great Stories of Artists

The truth behind a great creative passion is measured by its lenght, its ability to manifest itself like a water source alive to ideologies, beliefs, new tastes: showing a new face, never seen before”.

Michelangelo Merisi, nicknamed Caravaggio, studied at Simone Peterzano’s atelier, but his innate talent quickly let him to establish himself as one of the most cutting-edge artist of the XVII century art scene. He arrived in Rome very young  “with no money and badly dressed” and left the capital a few years later, in 1606. As a passionate and innovative creator, he was one of the most restless artist of his time, Caravaggio was “the author of the most powerful physical Christian art ever realised”. Passionate and stormy, he left Rome because of a fight ended badly, to escape the justice.

New Realism 

The violent way Caravaggio treated the reality, and his ability to turn the ideal into real, brought him as much success as disappointment. He was the only one who could put together, through his talent, the world of the church and cardinals, and the one of brothels. Caravaggio used to paint the flesh, that’s why many artworks were refused by his clients, who were horrified by the way he treated celestial themes. His models were prostitutes, countrymen, common people “with consumed and ripped clothes, dirty hands and feet, open mouths, limbs wide opened”.

San Luigi dei Francesi, Rome: “The Matthews” 

I’m talking about the Contarelli Chapel‘s cycle, Caravaggio’s first important public commission, where he painted the salient episodes of the Evangelist’s personal life: Matthew’s Vocation, St. Matthew’s Martyrdom, St. Matthew and the Angel. This controversial and emblematic last artwork was refused by the priests of San Luigi dei Francesi due to the “obscene posture”. In the first version, which was refused, Matthew is designed as a rough illiterate farmer with “feet toughly exposed to the people”. Unfortunately this masterpiece is known only through photographs, since it was destroyed during the WWII, in 1945. The angel was effeminate and ephebic, it looked like a young boy who guided Matthew in writing, like if he wasn’t able to write himself. The artwork was changed with a second version, probably less intense, and definitely less provocative.

How is possible that a Lombard guy, a painter apprentice arrived in Rome at the age of about 18 years old, could build, grow, flood from the low-rises of Navona square, beyond the Tiber, beyond the Alps, and beyond his own century and the centuries to come, getting to us as one of the highest reminders (probably the most stable and solid), becoming established as the flag of modernity for the most diverse choices, and the most contrasting factions? How come today, after Kandinsky or Mondrian, the most common onlooker, or devotee of Pollock or Rauschenberg, or the most compliance with playful art walks into San Luigi dei Francesi and feels a wound inside his chest that he believed closed forever to re-open? ” [Renato Guttuso]

The past and current diatribes on the attribution of artistic ownership to Caravaggio’s artworks: The Brera Case

At Pinacoteca di Brera  in Milan, the debated “Judith Beheading Holofernes” painting has been exhibited from the 10th of November 2016 to the 5th of February 2017. The painting was discovered in 2014 in an attic in Toulouse, and assigned to Caravaggio in a dubious way. Every time an alleged Caravaggio’s artwork appears, an endless polemic starts. In fact, in this case, the owner imposed to Pinacoteca di Brera to write Caravaggio’s name on the painting’s caption, therefore and the museum decided to add an asterisk saying * loan condition.

Because of this, one of the members of Brera Scientific Committee resigned.

Caravaggio is a figure who arises crucial questions to art historians, and this fact will persist in time, he will always be at the centre of the artistic scenario, then and now.

by Elisa Martino – Art Curator