Sunday, July 18, 2010

Darkness visible

Burning with fever and on the run from enemies real and perceived, Michelangelo Merisi collapsed near the Italian coastal town of Porto Ercole and died soon after on this day in 1610. He was just 38 years old, but his artistic brilliance had already produced some of the greatest paintings in Western art.

Known by the name of the town outside of Milan that he hailed from -- Caravaggio -- the artist was, by the start of the 17th century, known as the most famous painter in Rome, as much for his reputation of drunken outbursts, street brawls and habit of chasing women of various social strata as for his dark and wonderful canvases.

I've seen some of Caravaggio's work in Rome and at Boston's Museum of Fine Arts, and I may get to see more in Naples this year. I haven't seen in person his masterpiece The Beheading of Saint John the Baptist (image above from Wikipedia), but it is has some of the features that one expects in his work -- darkness, imminent violence and some of the grit of real life.

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