CARAVAGGIO (1573 - 1610)

 

        The real giant of seventeenth-century painting in Italy is Michelangelo Merisi, called Caravaggio after his native town in Lombardy. After studying with an obscure local master, he arrived in Rome around 1590. Considered a revolutionary pain­ter Caravaggio was the leading artist of the Naturalistic School. He lived on the fringe of respectable society. His short life was marked by violence and disaster. Caravaggio, was a lifelong rebel against convention. He shocked conventional people by repre­senting religious scenes in terms of daily life. He, was in chronic trouble with authority and had to flee Rome in 1606 after he killed a man in a brawl over a tennis match. During the next years he wandered around Italy. Caravaggio died of malaria in his thirtyseventh year on his return journey to Rome, with a pa­pal pardon in sight. Nevertheless the style of this unruly genius revolutionized European art.

           In 1597 Cardinal del Mount obtained for Caravaggio the commission to paint three pictures of Matthew and scenes from his life for the Contarelli Chapel in the Church of San Luigi dei  Francesi  in Rome. The greatest of these is the Calling of Saint Matthew, painted about 1599—1600, an event often represented but never in this soul-stirring way. The background is a wall in a Roman tavern; a window is the only visible background object. Matthew is seated «at the receipt of custom» (Matthew 9:9) with three gaudily dressed youths at a rough table on which coins are visible; figures and objects are painted in a hard, firm style that seems to deny the very existence of Venetian colourism. Suddenly, Christ appears at the right, saying, «Follow me». His figure is almost hidden by that of Peter. Christ shows only his face and his right hand, illuminated by a strong light from an undefined source at the upper right.

         Despite his oft-expressed contempt for Renaissance masters, Caravaggio often visually, as if in a vernacular translation, quoted Michelangelo Buonarroti. Christ points along the beam of light with a strikingly real hand whose gesture repeats that of God the Father in the Creation of Adam. Matthew points to his own breast as if to say, «Who, me?» In this realistic scene hap­pens the triumph of divine love. Christ instils a new soul in Matthew.

        In 1601 Caravaggio painted the Conversion of Saint Paul It was a favourite subject during the Counter-Reformation. This scene was usually shown with a vision of Christ descending from heaven, surrounded by clouds and angels. Against a background of nowhere Saul has fallen from his horse toward us, drastically foreshortened. He hears the words; but his servant hears nothing and looks down at his master unable to account for the light that shines all around and has blinded Saul. In this picture climax reaches the stage of cataclysm.

         Caravaggio's paintings were condemned by Bolognese artists and critics in Rome, and some were even refused by the clergy. Nonetheless, a decade after his tragic death Caravaggio's every­day naturalism, his hard pictorial style, his intense light-and-dark contrasts had inspired a host of followers in Rome, Naples, Spain, France, the Netherlands. His revolutionary art must be considered a major factor in the formation of two of the greatest painters in the 17-th century Rembrandt and Velazquez.

 

 

Notes

Calling of Saint Matthew— «Призвание Апостола Матфея»

Conversion of Saint Paul— «Обращение Савла»

«at the receipt of custom» (Matthew 9:9) — «у сбора пошлин»

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