I was a teenager when I discovered Caravaggio.
Beginning in the seventh grade, when I was twelve years old, I spent a great deal time immersing myself art, wandering the halls of the Minneapolis Institute, our grand museum, when I should have been in school. There are none of Caravaggio’s work in the MIA’s permanent collection, but there was enough from the late renaissance to enable me to be conversant with those masters who were the precursors of his style.
I did not encounter Caravaggio there, I encountered him at my neighborhood art-house cinema, the Uptown Theatre at Hennepin Avenue and Lagoon.
It was the 1986 film by Derek Jarman, starring Nigel Terry, Tilda Swinton and Sean Bean that made me aware of his work and influence.
It was a lovely movie, somewhat surreal, and it familiarized me with Caravaggio’s great achievements in the history of painting, the foremost being his mastery of foreshortening, which allowed his images to leap from the canvass, and in the second place his development of the chiaroscuro style, the sheer beauty of bringing light from the darkness which was his signature.
In 1990 I stood in front of a Carvaggio canvas for the first time. I was at the Chicago Institute of Arts and I was amazed at the dramatic realism in his work.
From that point forward if somebody were to ask me who my favorite painter is, I would say Caravaggio, without hesitation.
The more I learned about this masterful artist the more this remained true.
The 1986 film captured a great deal of his story, including the character of his life, its irreverent nature, which endeared me to him.
It wasn’t until I took an art history class as an undergraduate student at the University of Saint Thomas, in 1995, that I discovered what a rebellious spirit he had, and for that spirit I consider him a man of heroic stature.
As an artist his principle patron was the Church, and the most common subjects he was commissioned to paint were scenes of religious devotion.
He was imprisoned for his depiction of The Death of the Virgin, because he used as his model the bloating corpse of a prostitute he had fished from the river, painting Mary in a state of corruption and decay, which was an act of heresy because Mary was considered to be inviolate and incorruptible, even in death.
When he was commissioned to paint the Conversion of Saint Paul, seventy-five percent of the canvass he painted was taken up by the ass of the horse Paul fell from when he was blinded on the road to Damascus.
It was another great joke Caravaggio played on his patron, for which he is now well loved.
Given First – 2020.07.18