I spent the last 2 weeks on a quest to see the Caravaggio’s of Rome, Naples and Sicily. I took a group of students and the journey was incredible. The paths to grasping the complexity of Caravaggio’s paintings are multiple and variable. Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (1571-1610) chiaroscuro style, is gorgeous and stark with its dramatic angled lighting, deeply shadowed backgrounds and heart-wrenching contorted figures.
The Rome and Naples paintings are unmatched in breadth and depth. Caravaggio does what no painter before or since has been able to accomplish. The compositions are so complex but yet appear so simple. The movement of light is in a world of its own and his muted palette against vibrant hues makes flesh tones and drama explode out of the painting. It is as if the painting is alive and the sitters will start talking to you at any moment.
The most interesting phase of Caravaggio’s late career was surely the years he spent in Malta and Sicily. In 1608 Caravaggio was on the run escaping from the Maltese jail and took refuge in Syracuse. It was incredible to see these large works and especially the Burial of Saint Lucy. The painting was executed in three months in time for the December 13 celebration of St. Lucy feast day (October –December 13). He worked from live models in the Basilica of Santa Lucia al Sepolcro in the Borgata. To see the space where he worked and the lighting brings the painting full circle. A lot of experts believe he rushed it and left parts completely undone but if you see the setting in which it was painted you understand the mud of earth tones that he used was accurate and emotive. The Sicilian works are unique on so many levels. Caravaggio was near the end and would be dead in two years. The amount of work that he finished in this time is remarkable!
As I dug deeper into his work I found a man who was flawed but sincere in his convictions. Caravaggio was grateful and loyal to his friends. He was not only a murderer but also a victim; not only a genius, not only an imperfect man with faults, but also a worthy person who understood the human condition and empathy at the deepest level. Nec Spe Nec Metu-Without Hope-Without Fear! He lived a short and violent life but what he gave in return was the reality of this imperfect world we live in.