04 June 2007


Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio was an Italian baroque painter who is probably the best example of the naturalistic painting style of the early 17th century. He used models from the lower classes of society, both in his early secular works and later in his religious paintings. Equally important is his introduction of dramatic light-and-dark effects - termed chiaroscuro - into his works.
While 'translating' the context of many of the Biblical stories into the look and feel of his own day, Caravaggio also captured the original raw emotion and dramatic reality of the scenes.
For as you know, history is full of overly spiritualised and sanitised Christian paintings, complete with haloed beautiful people and winged angels sitting on clouds. Caravaggio's compositions are The Message version of Christian-themed paintings, one might say.
The Calling of Saint Matthew (1600) is noted for its dramatic use of "cellar light," streaming in from a source above the action, to illuminate the hand gesture of Christ (based on Michelangelo's Adam on the Sistine ceiling) and the other figures, most of whom are in contemporary dress. There are a couple of things that intrigue me in this particular work. First, is the way in which Jesus is hidden in the darkness behind Peter, the light glancing off his thin face and illuminating his God-the Father-like hand. Second, is the manner in which the bearded Matthew, seated with his rowdy friends, points at himself as if to say, "Who me?" As if he was entirely caught off guard by Jesus' call to "follow me."
The incredulity of Saint Thomas (1602).

Caravaggio's personal life was turbulent. He was often arrested and imprisoned. He fled Rome for Naples in 1606 when charged with murder. Caravaggio died on the beach at Port'Ercole in Tuscany on July 18, 1610, of a fever contracted after a mistaken arrest.

Bio summary adapted from:

No comments: