CARAVAGGIO AT THE MET

Forte, Joseph C.

Art CARAVAGGIO AT THE NET MORE THAN FRUIT & FLOWERS The life of Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (1571-1610) reads like a Zola novel: son of a mason/architect with aristocratic connections,...

...But their relationship to the Caravaggio work which followed was tenuous...
...The sensuality of Caravaggio's early works marks two of his most physically impressive and disturbing mature paintings: Amor Vincit Omnia (1602/3) and the first Supper at Emmaus (1601/2...
...A version of the Boy Bitten by a Lizard (1596) showed Caravaggio's increasing powers of execution, his interest in momentary expression, and his developing awareness of the power of light...
...Taken as a whole, they were as good a show of Italian painting 1600-1620 as we might hope to see...
...Comprised of ninety-nine paintings by predecessors, contemporaries, and Caravaggio himself, the show introduced his art to a larger public and forced scholars to confront problems posed by this man and his work...
...The newly-cleaned Metropolitan Musicians and the Uffizi Bacchus are paeans to sensuality: aural, tactile, and ultimately optical...
...At this it failed...
...Only the catalogue entries by Charles Dempsey on Annibale Carracci's Dead Christ made any serious attempt to relate the two sections of the exhibit...
...Francis and Judith and Holofernes, echoed the secular works: The St...
...It is to the credit of the organizing committee, Sir John Pope-Hennessey and Keith Christiansen at the Met and the late Dr...
...This show attempted to...
...The innkeeper is joined by a serving woman they anchor the composition and mitigate some of the formal and existential uneasiness of the earlier work...
...The exhibit's strength was thirty-eight paintings, either securely or tentatively attributed to the master, as thorough a representation as could be expected these days...
...Dinner is now herbs, wine, and bread...
...The lumpy Christ, reminiscent of the Amor grown to young manhood, the precisely, even obsessively painted elaborate banquet, shared with the astounded disciples and observed by an indifferent innkeeper, all reflect a unity of the predicatable and the bizarre that is Caravaggio's own...
...The Supper has now been placed in a more secure historical context, deriving from Northern Italian precedents...
...Art CARAVAGGIO AT THE NET MORE THAN FRUIT & FLOWERS The life of Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (1571-1610) reads like a Zola novel: son of a mason/architect with aristocratic connections, fledgling and struggling still-life painter in Rome, protege of an intellectual and probably homosexual circle, denizen of the eternal city's courts and jails, murderer, fugitive, and in the end, victim of mistaken identity and a tragic death...
...In fact, they diluted the power of the master's work itself...
...Moreover, Spear claims Caravaggio's work cannot be considered confessional in the narrow sense, neither as a frank admission of his homosexual proclivities nor as a statement of his personal lack of faith...
...AH the men are depicted as passive objects of desire, while the women (Judith, Mary Magdalene, St...
...This may well have had to do with availability, but works like Savoldo's St...
...The early work of Caravaggio should be seen as a piece, a wide-ranging essay on role reversal done primarily for one patron, Cardinal Francesco Maria Del Monte...
...But among the works that were present, marvels abounded...
...Everything he made did not spring from his head or from nature full-blown...
...In the first, the classical Eros becomes an eroticized Puck, at his feet objects representing worldly power and fame in disarray before his antic power...
...Turning away from the artistic conventions of the sixteenth century a preference for idealized figures and for depictions of exalted sacred mysteries Caravaggio chose humanity as he saw it and personal experience as the basis for his religious imagery...
...Francis is as serene as the later Bacchus, the Judith as animated as the boy bitten by the lizard...
...The major religious paintings from the Contarelli and Cerasi chapels, and the large altarpieces in Rome, Sicily, and Malta, too fragile to travel, were absent...
...The exhibition's first two rooms attempted to demonstrate what the young Caravaggio saw as a painter in Milan, the building blocks of his style and his imagery...
...Matthew and the Angel should have been supplemented by others like Titian's Venus at Her Toilet or Veronese's Supper at Emmaus which would have clarified Caravaggio's imagery...
...suggest that the art of Caravaggio was primarily the product of influences, and was novel primarily in a particular context...
...Raffaello Causa of Naples, that the show presented many of the problems the origins of Caravaggio's style, the uniqueness of his work, and the attribution of questionable pictures...
...But in a larger sense, it must be considered confessional an affirmation of the role of the self in making art, not narrowly defined as the product of sheer will and rebellion, but sensitive to issues of dislocation and representation, self and author, audience and truth not unlike those broached by contemporary post-structuralist thinkers...
...JOSEPH c. FORTE (Joseph C. Forte is professor of art history at Sarah Lawrence College, Bronxville, New York...
...Commonweal: 280 The Met exhibit also displayed sixty works by Caravaggio's Northern Italian predecessors, and his Roman and Neopolitan contemporaries the roots and the context for his art...
...The show demonstrated that Caravaggio's power as a painter is not predicated solely on his novelty...
...Nor were all the promised paintings delivered: the Still-Life from Milan and the Fortune Teller from Rome never arrived for the Met exhibit, leaving us without key examples of Caravaggio's early work...
...He was as well the greatest religious painter of his time, perhaps of all time...
...The exhibition "The Age of Caravaggio" held at New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art from February to April this year, and presently on its way to Naples, was but another indication of growing interest in his life and art...
...The power of the art in the last four rooms belied this...
...One can only hope the paintings exhibited will encourage this new direction in the study of Caravaggio's art and the larger issues it raised...
...But in its attempt to address these problems, the showing raised new questions about the present method of art history as practiced in such exhibitions...
...As Spear points out, the idea of the romantic rebel artist often associated with Caravaggio distorts his relationship to the artistic culture of his time...
...With the meal simplified and the responses controlled, Caravaggio underlined the power of Christ's presence and set us the task of contemplating the divine in matter, the sacramental in the profane...
...The next three rooms dedicated to Caravaggio's contemporaries also suffered from a lack of thrust...
...yet it is still so shocking no precedent can adequately explain its power...
...While the addition of these two introductory sections gave the show "blockbuster" proportions, they did not add impact...
...The apostles no longer theatrically respond to Christ's revelation...
...It deserved a more principled and imaginative handling than it was given by the exhibition catalogue, a book like Sartre's Saint-Genet that discusses the complex personal, social, and cultural forces in the work...
...From the didactic material and the extensive catalogue, from the addition of the preliminary sections, from the range of educational and scholarly activities surrounding the show, it is clear that the exhibition was meant to teach, to explain even in vague terms the meaning of Caravaggio's art and as eloquently stated in the introductory essay by Richard Spear in The Age of Caravaggio (Metropolitan Museum of Art/ Electa/Rizzoli, $50) the fissure between his life and his work...
...Few of the works displayed had any direct relationship with Caravaggio or his paintings in the later part of the show...
...Detail from "The Supper at Emmaus," from The Age of Caravaggio, the Metropolitan Museum of Art/Electa/Rizzoli, $50, 352 pp...
...The second version of the Supper at Emmaus, completed some five years later, is more traditional, more reverent, and yet more mysterious than its predecessor...
...Catherine of Alexandria), are active participants in accomplishing God's plan...
...The religious paintings of the early period, particularly the Stigmatization of St...

Vol. 112 • May 1985 • No. 9


 
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