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!


Especially if you are a novice writer.

Few read this blog.  Very few who don’t already know me, and those readers are especially treasured.

Wandering into the side of my brain that is rarely used, WordPress statistics tell me when a breakthrough occurs.  Simple numbers.

These viewership numbers are the highest when the post discusses something about which I know a lot.  As if a genius is inhabiting my fingers.  Like when writing about leaving my adjunct teaching position, and why.  Or when writing about art.  Blood pulses fast.  Same as when a visual composition is going well.

demoiselles d'avignon

Picasso had a great thought.   About a hundred years ago, he was working like hell to reinvent painting.  He realized some warmed over Renaissance style did not describe the 20th century.  The world was getting smaller.  Different cultures were seen everywhere with travel.  Some say that he spent nights in a museum dedicated to African art in Paris, in his effort to experience and integrate the strange sculptures and masks being imported from a far away place.


Demoiselles d’Avignon” is one of Picasso’s masterpieces (MOMA).  Details from the painting above show the importance of African art in his new painting.

HE reinvented painting by posing that new question, and then answering it himself.  Brilliant.  He worked harder than anyone else with those answers.  Georges Braque followed along for a while; he may have seen the genius of the conversation that Picasso created.  In this visual conversation,  Picasso was painting about what he knew better than anyone else, answering a question that he himself posed.  No wonder he dominated the painting of that century.

1-judy epstein

Above is a photograph of my late friend Judy Epstein and Picasso.  This was in 1947 in the south of France.  The long low building behind them is the studio where Picasso did his ceramic work while there.  Judy was married to her first husband, a painter, then.

Below is also Judy.  This painting is by Ivan Albright, of (can you believe it) Warrenville, Il.  Chicago suburbs.

Ivan le Lorraine Albright  13

Look at the legs.  Judy was in the right place at the right time, several times.