Helen Langdon on Why Caravaggio Speaks So Directly to the Modern World

Caravaggio: A Life by Helen Langdon (1999, Pimlico)

Flawed. Brilliant. One-of-a-kind. Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (1571–1610) has enchanted generations upon generations of art lovers all over the world through his shadowy – often violent – intensely dramatic paintings. British historian Helen Langdon talks about his continued relevance in her book Caravaggio: A Life:

He began his career as a painter of lyrical and courtly genre, with pictures of gypsies, musicians, and card players, which ravish with the beauty and precision of their naturalistic detail. But he developed into the most powerful religious artist of his age, creating a new Catholic art deeply rooted in the contemporary spirituality of the Counter-Reformation. The most famous painter in Italy, and celebrated throughout Europe, he was feared as a difficult and strange personality. He flaunted his originality, and mocked authority; he was fearless and belligerent, and in 1606 he killed a man, and spent his last years in exile. His greatest gift was for empathy, for making religious narrative new and vivid, and it is through this, and through his compelling personality, that he speaks so directly to the modern age. But although Caravaggio’s religious art sometimes shocked his contemporaries, at its deepest level it is in harmony with sixteenth-century spirituality. It reflects the passions of a restored Catholicism, yet its brooding darkness suggests both individual terror and the fears of an age of spiritual crisis and the collapse of a universal faith.

Images (Wikimedia Commons):

 

Judith Beheading Holofernes

 

The Beheading of John the Baptist

 

The Entombment of Christ

 

Conversion on the Way to Damascus

 

Death of the Virgin

 

Supper at Emmaus
Supper at Emmaus

 

David with the Head of Goliath

 

The Seven Works of Mercy

 

Salome

 

St. Jerome

 

The Crucifixion of St. Peter

 

The Calling of St. Matthew

 

 


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