Friday, July 07, 2006

Quoting Caravaggio

While in Italy I was reading "The Lost Painting" by Jonathan Harr. It's a true story presented as an "art detective-style" thriller (if such things thrill you) centering on a painting of Caravaggio's thought to be lost, "The Taking of Christ". I finished the book on the plane from Venice to JFK and, fittingly, "lost" it somewhere along with a journal I'd kept - probably in those damn pocket-pouch things that swallows up my stuff. (It was one of those "couldn't put it down, but when i did....." books)

Only in recent years has Caravaggio achieved his placement high up in the pantheon of classic Italian painters along with Raphael, Da Vinci, Botticelli, Titian, Michelangelo et al.
His neglect for centuries is due partially to the unconventional subject matter and style of his paintings. Though he was paid stupendous sums by his patrons, late renaissance and early baroque Italian art critics were not ready for him. It fell to the Dutch painters of the 17th century to carry his torch. Many appreciated and adapted his chiaroscuro, and dramatic natural style; most notably Rembrandt, through his teacher Peter Lastman.
During his lifetime and soon after his death Caravaggio was condemned for using prostitutes and street people as models. His combative personality was another strike against him.

Caravaggio left very little in the way of documentation about his personal life. After hearing the documented quotes of artists writing to their patrons, ie "I have completed the 10 cherubs on the border and, as you desired, included the gold leaf inlay on the robes..." - I take perverse enjoyment in relishing one of the few quotes attributed to Caravaggio. Apparently he was accosted by police for a carrying a dagger and sword. After presentiing his permit for them, he shot back in Italian, "Ti ho un culo!" - "Shove it up your ass!".

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