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Caravaggio

Updated: Oct 15, 2019

Somebody once said to me “Ah, Jeez, I don’t really think the words ‘blockbuster’ and ‘Art Exhibition’ can really be used in the same sentence…”. I think I’d gone to see a Goya exhibition and while that exhibition space was so damned packed you were forced to became intimately acquainted with peoples’ hair follicles - a blockbuster it was nonetheless, I guess. Well. In terms of the insular and seemingly exclusive world of the National art exhibition, it was.

But what about blockbuster in the movie sense? Blockbuster movies promise us big industry names, action, intensity and drama! Are we looking for those same things in an exhibition that promotes the powerhouse that is an Old Master (more on the missing ‘mistresses’ in another blog, but later)? Take Michelangelo, for instance. We know we’re going to get the Godfather of Mannerism, all bulging muscles, doe eyed fat little cherubim and bloody massive hands (think David…. there’s an image if you need reminding - See? He has MASSIVE hands, single handedly dispelling the myths that abound about any correlations between the size of a gentleman’s hands and his, er. Gloves?) Or maybe Picasso with his one eyed, multiple limbed, screaming-horse-colour-blocked-abstracted confusions? Yes! We’re promised drama. We get a fistful of drama.

Then there was Caravaggio.

And he blows all other blockbusting names out of the water and almost into the heavens. And it is almost because this dude was naughty. A murderer, gambler, womaniser and purported sodomite and devil worshipper. He was never getting into heaven on those terms. But you want blockbusting drama? Be very careful what you wish for.

The exhibition takes you on a very human journey and forces you to experience extreme emotions – love, lust, empathy and the worst kind of pains and the cruellest of betrayals. Imperfections, dirt and decay. Light, beauty, hope and salvation. You can’t escape from any of them, and I’d challenge you to try. His figures look out of the canvas, beyond the picture plane, and into your world and your soul. ‘The Taking of Christ’ left me so moved, the world shifted slightly. In the rendering of oil paint and the finest of brush strokes, we sense and feel Christs disappointment, His sense of betrayal and His acceptance of the inevitable – all within a partially lit face. He is rooted and calm, clasping his hands in readiness of his arrest and yet with the dramatic chiaroscuro lighting of his furrowed brow and dark, down-turned eyes that are not even distinguishable, we feel it with him. Caravaggio frames the upper torsi of the two figures of Christ and Judas with a sweeping and dramatic, almost theatrical, red fabric and the shining, dominant arm of the arresting soldier. In doing so he has created a little sea of calm condensed emotion and locked his protagonists forever in this small whirlpool of deceit and betrayal. And we feel Christs betrayal more keenly because of it. I could not take my eyes from Him. The pictures usual incongruous home is the National Gallery of Ireland. I am jealous of Ireland.

In Caravaggio’s short life, he was 38 when he died in exile, he created the most extraordinary works of art and forever changed how we would view works of a religious nature. Christ, with his dirty fingernails and St Peter in ‘The Crucifixion of St Peter’ with his sun-burned pate showed these biblical figures as real, suffering and of this world. The sacredness came in the exquisite rendering of oil paint, the realness that he created with dramatic lighting and new and unique viewpoints presenting well told stories to us anew. St Peter, already nailed to his cross and in the process of being lifted, upside down, to look out of the picture frame onto the altar of the church for which it was commissioned is nothing short of genius. St Peter watches the performance of the Eucharist from his cross in his tormented, twisted body. Caravaggio was by this point a wanted criminal and was no stranger to death and pain; by the time of his death, possibly by lead poisoning, he had a severely disfigured face from a possible retaliation of the wounding of a Maltese Knight and had been in exile for much of his 30’s. Undoubtedly you get a sense of his torment and pain from this picture. But just look at what he does. Just look on any one of his pictures and I dare you not to be moved, to be repulsed and to be inspired and. To actually like this guy a bit.

So, what does a blockbuster movie require? Adventure, darkness (look at some shots of Martin Scorsese films to see how Caravaggio is still influencing the drama in visual culture) and passion. You get these by the paint pot load with Caravaggio. Clever, witty, skilled beyond contemporary comparison and yet elusive, he forces you to enter his shadowy world. Caravaggio is what it is to be human. If Caravaggio doesn’t do it for you, then maybe you're not looking hard enough.



The Taking of Christ, (1602), National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin. The figure on the extreme right is a self-portrait.



Michelangelo’s David.





Scorsese – Mean Streets. Check out the source of lighting in this and compare to ‘The Taking of Christ’. See?

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Another fantastic insight into an exhibition that absolutely moved me!!! (Caravaggio)

Went to see the Leonardo D'avinci today thanks to having read this 'review'. Was wonderful and filled me with wonder and admiration to see such beautiful, loving, passionate images from a true master of insight and genius.

Lucie, your insight and use of language is also a wonder! Well done and thank you for sharing your passion with us all. More please!!! x

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