Porto Santo Stefano
Porto Santo Stefano
Recent Oil on Linen
Recent Oil on Canvas
450 Years of Caravaggio Tandem Obtinet
A brutal example of the relationship between art and justice
A truly worthy artist knows how to paint well and imitate nature.
Michelangelo Merisi from Caravaggio.
In the history of Western painting, Caravaggio occupies a unique place. Few geniuses had such an influence on the later development of the visual arts without, yet, leaving a school of their own.
Master of the chiaroscuro technique, Caravaggio anticipated modern painting by nearly three centuries, by bringing to the center of art the reality of human drama as experienced by common people. As the result of his turbulent life, Caravaggio’s art unveils the intricate relationships between creative genius, law, and diplomacy.
Born on September 29, 1571, in Milan, Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio experienced human suffering early. In 1576, his family was forced to move to the city he adopted as his surname — Caravaggio — to escape a pandemic that devastated the Milanese population at the time.
We can only imagine what he went through. He lost his father and grandfather on the same day in 1577. The boy was only five years old. Less than ten years later, at the age of thirteen, Caravaggio would lose his mother, in the same year of 1578, in which he would begin his apprenticeship in the studio of Simone Peterzano, a pupil of Titian. We can say that a tall tree takes root in hell.
And that tree didn’t take long to grow and bear fruit. Fruits full of thorns. Caravaggio had a bohemian spirit, irascible and violent. He made history for his notorious inability to control his aggression. In short, dear reader, Caravaggio was arrogant, short-tempered, and a troublemaker.
He didn’t take shit home. He was the perfect type of indomitable genius, which led him to develop an intimate relationship with the court system at the time. The first trouble that is known is that, in 1592, at the age of twenty-one, Caravaggio would have attacked a policeman in Milan. This would have forced him to flee to Rome, with the clothes on his back.
Some evils come to the good, the saying goes. In Rome, a miserable Caravaggio found shelter with a stingy fellow, known as “Monsignor Salad”. The name exists because of the lousy provision he offered his guests. Caravaggio has a falling out with him and ends up homeless. So strong was Caravaggio’s genius and character that a few months after the incident he was already working in the studio of Giuseppe Cesari, Pope Clement VIII’s favorite painter. It was the beginning of his conquest of Rome.
Before long, Caravaggio fell in the favor of one of the leading diplomats of the time, Cardinal Francesco Maria del Monte (1549–1627), who became his patron. In 1599, influenced by the cardinal, Caravaggio was commissioned to decorate the Contarelli Chapel, in the Church of San Luigi Dei Francesi, and presented two masterpieces: “The Martyrdom of Saint Matthew” and “The Vocation of Saint Matthew”.
Those pieces made Caravaggio the most famous artist in Rome.
From them, in an impressive procession of artistic genius, Caravaggio painted one masterpiece after another until he died in 1610. His success, however, was accompanied by growing brutality. His life was full of gambling, women, and unhealthy habits. But Caravaggio’s unlimited freedom would be the very mark of his art.
Hence its symbiotic relationship with the Italian law and judicial system at the time. Rome’s police archives are still being researched to reconstruct Caravaggio’s story. Yet, it is known that he was present in at least 11 legal proceedings, most of them for assaults and illegal possession of weapons. This one is particularly valuable.
Caravaggio’s fame and his unique style of unprepared painting — he painted directly on the canvas, without doing preparatory studies –, attracted some imitators. Caravaggio hated them. He even circulated offensive verses, in which he ridiculed Giovanni Baglione as a plagiarist. Baglione, who would later become his first biographer, sued him for libel in 1606, offering Caravaggio an opportunity, not realized, to record for posterity the principles of his theory of art.
The reader can imagine the historical importance of such a well-conducted and recorded court case. The State Archives in Rome contains the most vivid history of that artistic period, without which it would not be possible to understand the motivations, alliances, and relationships that spawned some of humanity’s greatest works of art.
Caravaggio wrote nothing, neither about himself nor about art. But, in judgment, he gave immortal statements like the following: “being a man of value is to deeply understand painting, as I do, is to be able to reproduce reality, the natural (…) I leave the arrogance of empty words to others, I let my works speak for me”.
Caravaggio invented the humanization of art, reproducing saints and biblical characters in the most brutal nudity of their most sincere and true humanity. And this was unheard of and scandalous until then.
And it is at this point that we are able to realize the immense diplomatic impact of Caravaggio’s work. It was the period of the Protestant Reformation, a time when the West had been fragmented with the wars of religion, which broke out, among other reasons, because the Catholic Church had alienated itself from the daily lives of common people.
In reaction to the Protestant revolts, the Church launched the Counter-Reformation, a movement of rebirth and restructuring, which aimed to bring Rome closer to the human experience as we lived in this world. The clash turned into a veritable culture war, in which no one understood and represented the Counter-Reformation worldview better than Caravaggio.
In his work, the saints are portrayed in the fragility of their most human aspect, creating such a strong identification with the viewer that many, at the time, could not even look at their canvases. Caravaggio was the absolute genius of Counter-Reformation cultural diplomacy.
There is an extra point, which connects Caravaggio to the legal world in an ever-current theme. Due to gambling debt, on May 28, 1606, Caravaggio involved himself in a duel with Ranuccio Tommassoni, which ended in his death. The episode forced Caravaggio to flee to Malta and then to Sicily, where he was commissioned to make many other masterpieces.
The case went to trial, and Caravaggio was sentenced in absentia to the death penalty, which in his case would have been by decapitation. Caravaggio, then, in search of mercy, paints the masterpiece “David with the Head of Goliath”, in which the biblical hero is portrayed with a look of mercy at the extracted head of the giant, which is, in reality, an autoportrait of Caravaggio with the mark of the damned on his forehead. The work is perhaps the greatest manifesto in art history against the death penalty. For Caravaggio, death is not a punishment, but a release.
The 450th anniversary of Caravaggio’s birth, finally, invites us to reflect on the intricate relationships between art, law, and diplomacy.
Caravaggio’s work was so intense that it was removed from the general public for three centuries, having only been rehabilitated in the 20th century, from the moment when Picasso, when painting the “Guernica”, declared that he wanted to be able to portray the horse throughout. its animality, as Caravaggio had done in the “Conversion of São Paulo”.
Caravaggio acted as a bass continuo, influencing the artists, but away from the public. Time, as it is, did him justice. Tandem Obtinet (Justice triumphs ).
Amor Vincit Omnia
On February 14th, we celebrate Valentine’s Day to honor Saint Valentine; or the Feast of Saint Valentine. Valentine’s Day is a celebration of romantic love in many regions around the world.
Sip some champagne and share some chocolates with your favorite sweetie. Book a romantic dinner filled with Love Potions and Aphrodisiacs.
The Saint that we celebrate on Valentine’s Day is known officially as St. Valentine of Rome; to differentiate him from so many other Valentines on the list. “Valentinus”—from the Latin word for worthy, strong or powerful—was a popular moniker between the second and eighth centuries A.D., so several martyrs over the centuries have carried this name.
You can find Valentine’s skull in Rome.
The flower-adorned skull of St. Valentine is on display in the Basilica of Santa Maria in Cosmedin, Rome (pictured above). In the early 1800s, the excavation of a catacomb near Rome yielded skeletal remains and other relics now associated with St. Valentine.
Saint Valentine’s Day is the most popular day for couples to get engaged.
Saint Valentine of Rome was a priest who was imprisoned for performing weddings for soldiers, who were forbidden to marry and for ministering to Christians who were persecuted under the Roman Empire. He was martyred in 269 and was added to the calendar of saints by Pope Galesius in 496 and was buried on the Via Flaminia.
The relics of Saint Valentine were kept in the Church and Catacombs of San Valentino in Rome, which “remained an important pilgrim site throughout the Middle Ages until the relics of St. Valentine were transferred to the church of Santa Prassededuring the pontificate of Nicholas IV“. Today, the flower-crowned skull of Saint Valentine is exhibited in the Basilica of Santa Maria in Cosmedin, Rome.
Cupid is the god of desire, erotic love, attraction and affection.
Sir Peter Paul Rubens painting of Venus, Mars and Cupid from the 1600s
He is often portrayed as the son of the love goddess Venus and the war god Mars. He is also known in Latin as Amor (“Love”).
Cupid is winged, allegedly because lovers are flighty and likely to change their minds, and boyish because love is irrational. His symbols are the arrow and torch, “because love wounds and inflames the heart.” The image above is a blindfolded, armed Cupid (1452/66) by Piero della Francesca.
Cupid sculpture by Bertel Thorvaldsen
Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind
And therefore is winged Cupid painted blind.
Nor hath love’s mind of any judgement taste;
Wings and no eyes figure unheedy haste.
And therefore is love said to be a child
Because in choice he is so oft beguiled
Shakespeare in A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1590s)
My favorite cupid is Caravaggio’s Victorious Love, also known as Love Conquers All (Amor Vincit Omnia), in which a brazenly naked Cupid tramples on emblems of culture and erudition representing music, architecture, warfare, and scholarship.
The motto comes from the Augustan poet Vergil, writing in the late 1st century BC.
Omnia vincit Amor: et nos cedamus Amori.
Love conquers all, and so let us surrender ourselves to Love.