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?
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!