inside caravaggio

twenty masterpieces exhibited in Milan


In an era of virtual reality, where evolving technology gives us new ways to expose art, museums become intangible, masterpieces disappear by giving space to virtual galleries, in Milan, these days, the purest and amazing beauty is celebrated in an exhibition curated by Rossella Vodret, where are exposed20 artworks of Caravaggio, that could not be more real and tangible than what they are.

 The exhibition opens with an artwork that is considered today one of the greatest masterpieces of the artist, 'Judith Beheading Holofernes'. Giuditta is a symbol of virtue and divine love, in this scene she is immortalized while she is cutting the head to the Assyrian king who held the city of Betulia under siege and became a bearer of divine justice. The figures in this artwork seem to come outside of the canvas and emerge from the darkness surrounding them. The lighting gives scenic sacred feel to the whole work. This light comes from above and invades the young girl and her candid body, which is almost disturbed and frightened by the gesture she is about to do. Next to her there is an oldest woman, who represents the corruption of the world.

 Michelangelo Merisi, called Caravaggio, paints all his works with a typically baroque theatricality, but differently from his collegues painters, his subjects are not painted while they are standing in poses. His paints are all about the moment, the instant becomes the subject and so is the light, scenographic, that tells and reveals the feelings of the soul. 'Boy Bitten by Lizard' painted in 1597 shows a boy bitten by a lizard that emerges from the flowers and fruits, where it was hiding. The movement becomes the protagonist of the painting. The light that rushes from above illuminates the right side of the boy and it showing his expression, the vertical wrinkles of the face visually suggest his psychological reaction, a combination of horror, suffering and the surprise. 

 The gestures of Caravaggio's characters are sweet and compassionate, the light emphatisizes the delicacy of the faces, giving a classic balance to his art. In the artwork 'Saint Francis of Assisi in Ecstasy ', the Saint is illuminated by a divine light while he is reciving the stigma marks. In this dark context, St. Francis gets himself abandoned to the will of the heavenly Father and falls into the arms of the angel who gives him support and comfort. In 'Martha and Mary Magdalene” (1598) Mary Magdalene gently speaks to Martha to convince her to converte herself; the light, which comes from Mary's shoulders, seems to come out of her hands, while Martha is listening attentively holding a mirror in her hands, a symbol of vanity and sins still living in her.

 The perspective of Caravaggio’s art brings us inside the scene of his artpieces. The atmosphere is calm, the glance and the gestures are loaded with intense meaning. In 'Holy family with St John the Baptist ' (a paint that comes from the MoMA of NY) Saint John, painted when he was still a child, wants to get closer to caress Jesus wants to approach Jesus, and while Saint Joseph is stopping, gently, his hand. The strict geometry of the composition is used to create an atmosphere of serenity. The fascination of the image is emphasized by the delicacy of the Virgin's face, that is represented by the famous model of Caravaggio, Fillide Melandroni.

 In 'Crowning with Thorns' Jesus is surrounded by three torturers who keeps him tied up. The Truth, which is in contrast with the violence, wins in this sad episode. The painting is very dark, the setting is a little blurry, this way the context passes in the background and the light illuminates what is more importance. Jesus looks upward, towards the Father and the expression of pure humanity in the face of Christ, with this gesture of supplication, seems so infinite and create in us a sense of pity. Caravaggio begins his artwork by painting the dark tones and then gradually adds on neutrals and light tones. The light appears at last and it locks in the scene.

Caravaggio becomes over time a man harder to deal with, restless and belligerent. It will be involved in wrong and dangerous situations, that won’t give him much time to devote to his art. Darkness will gain more and more space in Caravaggio’s artpieces giving less space to light. He will start to prefer brothels and to use prostitutes as models. With his 'group' he shares his ideals of 'nec metu nec spe' which means without hope and without fear. In 1606, during the celebrations for the new Pope Paolo V Borghese, he kills a man and runs away. He escapes to the Roman hills where he paints 'Saint Francis in Prayer': in this painting San Francis contemplates a skull, and seems to want to paint and remind himself of the failure of his life.

Caravaggio is a man who has been able to rise to heaven as a painter, and fall into hell as a man. This dual humanity has made it one of the most fascinating, tormented and spectacular painters of the 17th century.

(Marta Marconi)