Thursday, January 6, 2011

Fifth of 365

Shout out to my friend Ben and everyone in my 17th Century "Problems outside of Italy" class from Fall Semester! This guy is for you.

And so, we move on to the 5th and final artist most relevant to my holiday. This will still be followed by another post for today-today, but this gets us on track for one post a day from now on. :) So far, we've seen the eccentric dreamweaver (Dalí), the coloristic master (Titian), the scientific sculptor (Ganson), and the well-rounded painter-diplomat (Rubens). What good boys. Time for a little mischief.

Fifth. Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio - The Italian Bad-Boy

This artist, most simply and commonly known as Caravaggio, is likely another artist most have heard of...but know little about. And on that note, little is known about him in general! He did not sketch or keep a journal of his style, methods, or work. He did not utilize models or Antique statuary for reference, which was the tradition of the age. He did not take on students, though many young artists (known as the "Caravaggisti") took on his style. He was he antithesis of what a successful artist in the seventeenth-century should be.

And yet, he was successful, particularly for his naturalistic religious works. He is best known for his use of chiaroscuro, or strong contrasts between light and shadow ("Make your darks darker, and your lights lighter"). He worked to emphasize physical and psychological realities. Despite his focus on the blatant naturalism, and sometimes even grotesque details, of life, there is mystery in his work. Why all of the deep shadows? Who is the reoccurring figure in his pieces (i.e. You can see the same "boy" in Boy with a basket of fruit, 1593-1594, The Musicians, 1595-1596, and arguably, Bacchus, 1595)? Why are the fruit in his works most frequently depicted as rotting?

Sadly, it is Caravaggio's "bad boy" image that seems to be more common knowledge than his oeuvre (work). He carried a sword with him when he went out and is known for picking fights and being aggressive in nature. There are pages upon pages of police reports and trial hearings as a result. He was forced into exile for killing a man in 1606 (perhaps unintentionally). He died in exile of a fever in 1610, all alone.

But what he should be known for is his distinct cultivation of chiaroscuro as it pertains to the development of the Baroque style. Baroque artists may not have adopted the psychological realism also characteristic of Caravaggio's work, but they are absolutely indebted into his development of chiaroscuro. This style even touched the light, vivacious work of Rubens (one of my arguments for my paper!).

3 Facts!

- When Caravaggio died, he was on his way back to Rome to receive pardon from the Pope for his transgressions. It is said that he was even robbed of his boat and worldly possessions right before he took fever and died. Human remains found in a church in Port Ercole in Tuscany in 2010 are thought most definitively to belong to Caravaggio (DNA and carbon dating confirms).

- Caravaggio was more-or-less immediately forgotten after his death, only to be rediscovered in the 20th century as a master of the Baroque era. Only about 80 of his works survive.

- *Best fact ever* - In the Barbie Rapunzel movie (Yes, I'm serious), when the shot is walking down the hall into the main ballroom towards the climatic end, Caravaggio's Boy with a basket of fruit is on the left wall on the very end at the hall. Yes. Barbie's Prince has a Caravaggio in his palace. And Caravaggio is probably flipping in his grave.

"All works, no matter what or by whom painted, are nothing but bagatelles and childish trifles... unless they are made and painted from life, and there can be nothing... better than to follow nature." - Caravaggio

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