But I have just finished a book on Caravaggio, one of many many that have been published about this very eccentric individual, and so much good stuff was missing.  One might argue that Jonathan Harr‘s book, “The Lost Painting” is about the search for a painting rather than the painting itself.  Or the artist.

And it had two endings.  Like “Lincoln”.  Less would be more.

Heard about this book in a feature on NPR, while laying tile on my pool deck.  Changed up for a minute, walked into the office and ordered it for 75 cents on Ebay.  Feeling oh so twenty first century, I went back to my work.  Then realized that if I had a Kindle, I would be reading now.  But not for 75 cents.  Modern as I can afford to be, this is fine.

Even an educated person with the least acquaintance with understanding art would know of Ervin Panofsky.  To someone who was interested in Northern Renaissance art, he was royalty.  His most famous article put forth his ideas on the iconography of “The Arnolfini Double Portrait“, a work of art that every student has confronted.


This work by Van Eyck is more known than any by Caravaggio, because it is the go-to example when teaching about “iconography” in a basic art history class.  It is just so perfect for the concept.

Panofsky’s work is huge.  In the book, “The Lost Painting”, the title a perfect description of the content of the book, his second wife, Gerda Panofsky-Soergel is mentioned many times, referred to as the “German woman” who was allowed to visit an archive, but never connected with this icon of art history.


The painting above, “The Taking of Christ” was the goal of Gerda’s research and why she was looking in the archive, but she never landed the home run.  She was just a player in the search.  In the book, she was allowed in the private archive, probably because of her name, where others had continually been denied.  Down the line in the search, our art historian heroine, Francesca,  was also allowed into the archive because she found a personal connection with the family.   Same with Gerda.  She was REALLY connected.  She had the famous name, but this was never mentioned.

Within the narrative of the very interesting search for a lost painting by Caravaggio, a brief history of the life of the man is sketched out.  He was wild, in favor and out of favor with art lovers because of his compositional tactics.  Really a street brawler, he used his friends as models, and they were street people themselves.  More than once a painting of his was rejected by those who commissioned it because the model for the Madonna was a famous prostitute.  Would mean nothing to us now, but to the contemporary Catholic church, it was a very bad idea.

He painted like a miracle, his work purchased by those at the highest levels, but he needed protection by them because of his personality.  His face was mutilated once, and he was forced to leave Rome, where any citizen would be allowed to perform the service to the city of killing him.  His life was just so schizo.

Something that Caravaggio did that students always like is that he included self-portraits in many of his works.


Above is a self portrait of Caravaggio as Goliath’s head (only).


And a younger Caravaggio as Bacchus, the god of wine.

But what I love about Caravaggio is his predisposition for unusual compositions.  He kind of hides his wackiness in full view if one chooses to see it.  He makes jokes and uses humanity to populate sacred compositions.


This Roman soldier has such a great ass, eh?  One can hardly get beyond it!  Why is it bathed in light as are Christ’s hands, or Judas kissing Christ’s face, or St. John’s anguish?  Or the Caravaggio self-portrait in the upper right?

conversion of st paul

But this example has to be the best in category.  In a “Conversion of St. Paul“, in the church of Santa Maria del Popolo (1601), the bee-hind of a horse is a major player in the composition.  Who else would do this but Caravaggio?

We had just seen this painting before Glenn took a major sky dive over the handlebars of a Segway out in the piazza.  Was kind of a Caravaggio moment in itself!


We got married in Rome (Italy, not Georgia).  Went there in February, 2009, before the season.  I had been there before in February when the weather was lovely.  This year it was colder than normal.  Didn’t matter.  We rented a Vespa and toured around for two days like teenagers, one with bad hat hair (that would be me;  Glenn has no hair).

We visited the American embassy and many Italian government offices.  We were prepared to be married there.  The officials were surprised at how good our paperwork was.  We started the process, as necessary, by taking two friends to the Italian embassy in Chicago to swear that we were not married to others.  Chicago was the closest presence Italy had to St. Louis in the United States.  It was a fine but cold day, and when we were done swearing at Italians we went to the Obama’s favorite restaurant there for lunch.

It is interesting to do things in another country which are not the habits of tourists.  Sit in waiting rooms, try to talk to bureaucrats.  You get a different feeling for a place.  Already Rome divides itself between the ancients and the Renaissance in terms of art and architecture.  For a morning you can hover around the year 72 on our calendar, and then in the afternoon revel in the enlightenment of the Renaissance, around the year 1500.  Or, if you intend to do something significant in Rome, you can visit solid stone buildings with renovated interiors that look like the 1960s.

Our planning went well.  We found a venue for the wedding, an ancient Roman relic of a building which was used just for such things, and booked it for an hour on a Friday.  It was a shame that we were just two, with no families;  it looked like a storybook.  Translation was a huge expense throughout the whole process, from Chicago to the actual wedding.  The Italians wanted us to know what we were doing, and we wanted to know what they were doing.  It made sense.  The charming girl who checked us into our room at the hotel served as our translator and therefore was part of our ceremony.

By Wednesday of that week, we were ready.  Of course, early in that week, we sandwiched tourist visits between bureaucratic visits.  Wednesday and Thursday could be just tourist fun.  It was on Wednesday that we went to the Palazzo del Popolo, to see the almost twin churches, and the great Caravaggio painting “The Conversion of St. Paul“.

the conversion

It is a breathtaking Baroque style painting where Caravaggio appeals to what is human in us, as Saul, the Roman soldier falls from his horse, his breath knocked out of him.  It is as if Caravaggio is saying to us, “this is the power of conversion; it is like being flat on your back wondering if you will get your breath back or not”.

detail conversionCaravaggio used known street people for his models and created quirky compositions like this one, which in large part features a horse’s huge be-hind.

twin churchesAbove are the almost twin churches.  They are not exact twins because of a space problem.  The basis of design of one is a circle; the other, an oval.  Someone, somewhere screwed up.

It is here at the Palazzo del Popolo that we begin to discuss healthcare.  On Wednesday of our wedding week, we came to visit.  Not a long walk from the hotel.  We had bought stuff for our kids, we were laden.  Glenn saw an Egyptian guy renting out Segways to tourists.


He HAD to do this.  The Egyptian guy quizzed him until he was convinced that Glenn could handle the machine.  Then he was off.  Across the plaza, I viewed him through my camera, taking pictures.  Suddenly, Glenn was flying, landing flat on his back on the bricks.  He caused a scene.

By the time I got there from my picture taking distance, heavy with gifts, two women had already called an ambulance.  An Israeli father and son, both docs, came to look.  The father asked Glenn, on the ground, where he was.  He replied very precisely, “Palazzo del Popolo, Rome, Italy”.  The he asked him to squeeze his right hand and then his left.  Glenn could do that.

He was loaded into the ambulance, I followed in a cab.  We went to a nearby hospital in a Renaissance building.  I began to worry about insurance cards, fumbling through Glenn’s wallet.

Glenn was seen immediately.  Sticking out like a sore thumb,  I noticed the setting around me.  Filled with middle class people, the setting was not like emergency rooms here.  One woman in a wheel chair spoke English.   Do all use this facility?  Some of the very rich might not, they might pay to go somewhere else.

The hospital was just fine.  It had a drab interior again from the 1960s, and an exterior from 1500.  Glenn had an x-ray, and all examinations necessary to determine that he would hurt for our wedding, but not permanently.  We left with a prescription. He had had a shot and felt better.

There was no business office in the hospital.  We did not pay for this care, no one does.