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Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Free Caravaggio

There are a bunch of Caravaggios in Rome, but the stunning thing is that four of them can be seen for free. I am certainly no art critic, but I don't let that stop me, strolling from north to south.

On the Piazza del Popolo is Santa Maria del Popolo, which is just bursting at the seams with great stuff - I need to spend more time there. On the subject at hand, the Cerasi Chapel contains two Caravaggios. The Crucifixion of Saint Peter has unbelievable heft, as the linked wiki entry notes, and Peter is a full-on badass oldster -- this is a painting more about man than God.
Conversion on the Way to Damascus is another chiaroscuro knockout, on the right side of the little chapel. I couldn't quite figure out the horse, but Paul's open, heavenward reach, his stunned amazement at the revelation he's experiencing, the simultaneity of his swooshing movement and his knocked-the-wind-out-of-me frozenness, groundedness and transcendence ... it totally transfixed me.

(Bernini's sculpture The Ecstasy of Saint Teresa was also recommended to me as one not to miss on this ecstatic theme - I hope/plan to see it.)

Heading south, and quite close to the Piazza Navona, is the unassuming Sant' Agostino is Caravaggio's Madonna di Loreto. It probably impressed me least of the four I am including here, though there were two things that I really pondered over. The first is that the Madonna's toenails were dirty, or so it seemed to me. No biggie, I know, but I just don't recall this kind of utter humanization of the subject to quite this extent before. Second, while I am not impressed by the proportioning of the young God, still his head and face struck me as improbably photographic. Just looking at that, I would have been hard pressed to say this was a painting and not any, say, late 19th - early 20th c. snapshot bimbo. So I guess it's the realism of this one, in the details, that really spoke to me.
Finally, right around the corner in San Luigi dei Francesi/Saint Louis des Français, the whole of which I find quite striking, is the amazing The Calling of Saint Matthew in the Contarelli Chapel.
This is probably my favorite of the bunch. Customs houses get at the intersection of money and the state that always interests me, and the sacred graft --to say nothing of the breathtaking quality of the work, the sheer depth of each character, the shading and the lighting-- just knocks my socks off. As I might say here over a particularly hot Garcia solo - WOW. Two snaps up.

Of course, each of these churches holds countless other masterpieces of canvas, plaster, marble and all the rest. It always feels a little strange to me to crowd around the Caravaggio when there's a neglected Raphael a few apses down. But why overthink it, especially at a first go? The Eternal City, God willing, always be, and once you're there, a lot of its treasures are there for the mere walking-to and taking-in.

Google Arts & Culture offers even more Free Caravaggio!


  1. Dodging Lions and wasting time in Rome, very good. Pulling in to Brussels next?

  2. Of course that's been in my head. Brussels during the summer.


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