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Caravaggio A Life Sacred and Profane

Th in suspicious circumstances off the coast of Naples Graham Dixon shows how Caravaggio’s paintings emerged from this extraordinarily wild and troubled life his detailed readings of them explain their originality and Caravaggio’s mentality better than any of his predecesso. Well written engaging and comprehensive biography of Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio the great Italian renaissance painter famous for his dramatic effects of light and shade and intense realism Portrait of Caravaggio by Ottavio LeoniCaravaggio was an intriguing and complex man an impetuous character who kept company with whores and courtesans always ready to engage in a fight or an argument He uickly flared up at the merest hint of an insult and conseuently was fast to draw a blade He was an aggressive man determined to take revenge on his adversaries whatever the cost A talented artist Caravaggio was unafraid to break the mold making his own way in the Roman crowded painters market He rejected the fashion of his era for classical idealized forms by employing an immediately recognizable lightening strike style of painting a powerful contrast of light and dark and using subtle and complex symbolism in his works The Crucifixion of St Peter 1600 1601 Doubting Thomas c 1603 Sacrifice of Isaac 1603 St Jerome Writing c 1605Graham Dixon does an amazing job at Caravaggio s biography and career that spanned the decades immediately before and after the year 1600 The author closely follows the artist s steps through his turbulent life from his humble beginnings in Lombardy to the start of his successful career in Rome After having murdered a rival in 1606 Caravaggio is exiled from the capital and takes refuge in Naples where he establishes his fame as a talented and sought after painter Unable to return to Rome Caravaggio leaves for Malta where he becomes a knight of the Order of St John in return for artworks commissioned by the Grand Master but almost as soon as he is knighted he manages to find trouble again and lands in jail After escaping from prison he flees to Sicily where he works while on the run Leaving a brothel in Naples he is attacked and seriously injured Eventually he arranges a pardon for his murder but he dies at Porto Ercole on his way back to Rome The Entombment detail 1602 03 St John the Baptist detail c 1604 Death of the virgin detail 1605 Judith beheading Holofernes detail c 1597Graham Dixon vividly recreates the atmosphere of the period and the historical setting of each city where Caravaggio lived and immersing the reader in the local way of life He provides well researched historical and social background as well as art criticism of Counter Reformation Italian art with some insightful and interesting interpretations of Caravaggio s most famous works The inclusion of translations of the original reports and witness statements in the archives of Roman courts on the many incidents involving Caravaggio was very interesting they provide an illuminating perspective on Roman society as well as the painter s personalityThe book includes a map of Italy c 1610 and detailed period maps of the cities where the artist was active Milan Rome Naples and Valletta The reader will also find a good number of illustrations of referred to artworks author s notes and bibliography for further research although sadly a timeline of the artist s life and major works is missing An excellent read for me I would highly recommended this book to people who enjoy artists biographies and Renaissance art lovers 5 stars for the book 25 for the narration About the audio versionview spoiler It s a pity that Audible didn t bother to find someone who can narrate in good Italian it may be excused in a book with a few Latin phrases and Italian terms here and there but in a book set in Italy and about Italian art and history like this one it s disappointingI doubt that Ballerini speaks fluent Italian His pronunciation of places and famous historical characters puts strong emphasis on their names he vacillates between sounds for double and single consonants eg ss nn tt in Giorgio Vasari Mario Minniti Francesco Susinno Buonarroti and uses the wrong stress on words altogether eg in pazzia the accent is on the i not on the first a in Girolamo is on the first o not on the a in Apostoli on the a not the second o etc these are typical anglophone mistakes His narration became distracting tedious and even cringe worthy at times hide spoiler

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Ose of cardinals and prostitutes prayer and violence Graham Dixon puts the murder of a pimp Ranuccio Tomassoni at the centre of his story It occurred at the height of Caravaggio’s fame in Rome and probably brought about his flight through Malta and Sicily which led to his dea. This review originally appeared at the Washington Independent Review of BooksBeing a tortured rock star is tough in any century Case in point Michaelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio the brilliant brooding bad boy of the 16th century art world whose rise to fame in his early 20s seemed propelled as much by sheer force of will as it was talent and whose fall before the age of 40 makes for a spectacularly self destructive tragedy worthy of Shakespeare or at least of Sid Vicious Jim Morrison Keith Moon and countless other hard living rock and rollersIn his scholarly but surprisingly spunky biography Graham Dixon follows Caravaggio on the roller coaster ride that was the artist s life starting with his rise from obscurity in Milan to his early success in Rome where his eye for stark realism and creative use of light and shadows brought him admiration and fame though he would still to his annoyance be regarded as something of a novelty act From those heights it s an eually rapid race through the downward spiral of the murder rap that sends the painter on the run through Malta where he s arrested and jailed then Naples where an ambush leaves him severely wounded and finally to Porto Ercole where he dies under mysterious circumstances These are the basics but given that the paper trail left by the painter as he slouched and swashbuckled his way across Italy is either nonexistent or invisible Graham Dixon at times has to adopt the tones of a detective novelist as he scours one obscure document after another uncovering criminal depositions buried letters and coroner reports to bring the painter and his world to vivid lifeGraham Dixon carefully lays down Caravaggio s upbringing and background placing the painter in the context of late 16th century Milan where the humorless stridently devout archbishop of Milan Carlo Borromeo was determined to enforce good and pious behavior Borromeo believed in a Christ incarnate insisting that his subjects visualize a living breathing Christ in the hope that doing so would make his suffering and sacrifices that much graphic and glorious Further the archbishop was also a fan of the sacro monte literally the sacred mountain a string of small chapels featuring three dimensional scenes from the Bible that visitors strolled through and gawked at like a Disney attraction These displays were often intentionally shocking the floor of one chapel appeared to have dismembered babies strewn across it but such religious showcases were unavoidable in Caravaggio s formative years which goes a long way toward explaining how the almost defiantly non religious Caravaggio could be so familiar with religious imagery and Biblical allusionsAs a young man Caravaggio was apprenticed to the dull and cautious painter Simone Peterzano who provided the artist not so much with instruction on how to paint but of an example of how not to do it In 1592 Caravaggio headed for Rome where he began producing increasingly sophisticated and highly realistic paintings even as he continued to behave badly falling in with a crowd of shady young men who encouraged his fighting whoring and skulking about Yet his undeniable talent ensured him admirers benefactors and protectors happy to look the other way or bribe an official or two to keep the young man paintingEven in his earliest works Caravaggio had a showman s knack for storytelling His paintings of coy fortune tellers stealing rings off the finger of a mark or of crooked card players fleecing unsuspecting well to do young men are almost like snapshots of singular moments in time telling a complete story in a single image and catching the particular event at its most dramatic moment The buzz generated from these slice of life paintings led to commissions for chamber pieces and eventually altarpieces and other religious paintings a genre at which the swaggering profane Caravaggio would excelFor Caravaggio raised on Borreomeo s steady diet of a visualized Christ and the vivid sacro monte Christ his disciples and the Virgin Mary had weight and heft There would be no Christ or Mary ascending to heaven on feathery clouds instead Christ plods along on dirty bare feet gesturing for St Matthew as he leans over a counting table A real prostitute poses for a dying Virgin Mary as balding disciples sob around her The dead Christ in The Entombment of Christ lolls heavily in the arms of St John whose fingers inadvertently tear open the savior s wounds And in each Caravaggio lights his figures dramatically against nearly pitch black backgrounds almost literally highlighting the moment and forcing the viewer to pause and reflect and perhaps move them to penance as Borromeo might have hoped of viewers of the sacro monteAnd yet the realism and sophistication of Caravaggio s paintings proved too much for many tastes at the time Like a painterly Mozart surrounded by a sea of dabbling Salieris Caravaggio saw many of the prestigious commissions go to lesser artists who worked in the safer traditional styles Graham Dixon an art critic and historian is dexterous in his discussion of Caravaggio s art reading neither too much nor too little into the paintings While he studies their dramatic composition he won t usually bother you with heavy handed symbolism apart from explaining how he thinks the loutish Caravaggio may have been aware of such highbrow symbolism in the first placeGraham Dixon also puts Caravaggio s art in context of other paintings at the time showing how other artists interpreted similar themes and when you see Caravaggio s version of The Death of the Virgin jammed up against the mundane altarpiece that replaced it you ll understand why its rejection may have ignited Caravaggio s already notorious temper and prompted him to aim a horse s ass in one of his own pieces directly at the replacement painting Seething Caravaggio eventually ends up taking part in a duel in which a hotheaded pimp named Ranuccio Tomassoni is critically wounded and Graham Dixon has uncovered new evidence which he believes suggests a far salacious motivation for the fight which prior biographers have attributed to a spontaneous dust up over a tennis match Graham Dixon argues convincingly that the fight was likely provoked by a slur aimed at Tomassoni s wife who may or may not have been one of Tomassoni s prostitutesFrom here it s all sadly and inescapably downhill for Caravaggio for the last four years of his life though he continues miraculously to keep right on painting With a price on his head he hustles to Malta where he becomes one of the favored Knights of Malta and tries to sweet talk his way into forgiveness by producing portraits of some of the leading members of the court Later he sends a potential benefactor a painting of David with the head of Goliath substituting his own head for the slain giant a final plea for a clemency that never arrives Sadly his temper again gets the best of him Caravaggio kills another man lands in prison then tantalizingly somehow pulls off a daring escape of which no details are known Hiding out in Naples in 1609 he s ambushed perhaps in revenge for his most recent murder yet shakily completes two paintings before dying under mysterious or at least confusing circumstances at the age of 38 And here again Graham Dixon carefully dissects conflicting stories of the painter s death assessing motivations weather and the speed of messengers to determine what may have really happenedIn his perhaps too brief aftermath and epilogue Graham Dixon traces the inevitable rise of Caravaggio s reputation finding his influence in remarkable places including the films of Martin Scorsese who admits he aspired to do Jesus like Caravaggio in The Last Temptation of Christ Not a bad legacy for the hard living self destructive genius who did so much than just live fast die young and leave a good looking corpse

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Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio 29 September 1571–18 July 1610 lived probably the darkest and most dangerous life of any of the great painters The worlds of Milan and Rome through which Caravaggio moved and which Andrew Graham Dixon describes brilliantly in this book are th. Wonderful biography Perhaps a life history is a better word as Caravaggio remains an obscure person The only written records available are court records relating to his almost weekly arrests for insult and violent behaviour There are some letters reporting on his whereabouts and letters reuesting the status of commissions granted to him but never a letter from Caravaggio himself or people close to him It was great to have Graham Dixon show us Caravaggio s paintings in great detail and with such sensitivity He sometimes takes an entire chapter to describe a single painting I especially liked his views regarding the exact moment at which Caravaggio chose to depict an action in a story as his moment of choice was considered pretty unconventional and rebellious at that time Further he tells us who the models were where the clothes and props came from how Caravaggio arranges the light and anything else which is of interest when viewing that particular painting We further learn who commissioned the painting whether it survived or was lost and how and where it is presenly located The revealing of a new painting of Caravaggio was much anticipated and people flocked to view it They would often be astonished and sometimes scandalized There were uite a few paintings rejected by churches which commissioned a painting of a particular scene from the bible on the ground that the resulting picture was too sacrilegious as it showed for example Maria with a too deep cleaverige or the apostels as rugged farmers in torn clothes Interestingly enough a few were rejected because Maria or the saints were painted with dirty naked feet These rejected paintings were immediately snapped up by the rich and noble families who all coveted a Caravaggio painting Punky guy as he might have been he was the best painter of the post Renaissance and people stood in awe looking at his workCaravaggio sounds like a maniac patrolling the dark streets of Rome in the small hours of the night sword and dagger at the ready You could say he was always cruising for a bruising The course of his life was dictated by his violence and the unruly company he kept He dies an early death due to injuries inflicted by a vengeful attack It is not surprising that it is unknown who attacked him He stays an obscure person till the endGreatly recommended when you like Caravaggio s workAddendum Oct 21 2019 I just finished Francine Prose s Caravaggio and can recommend her biography as well Francine Prose takes a personal and emotional view on Caravaggio s work than Andrew Graham Dixon plus has some interesting details on his life Her biography is a uick read the size of an essay and has no pictures to illustrate her remarks

  • Hardcover
  • 512
  • Caravaggio A Life Sacred and Profane
  • Andrew Graham-Dixon
  • English
  • 01 December 2017
  • 9780713996746

About the Author: Andrew Graham-Dixon

Andrew Graham Dixon has presented six landmark series on art for the BBC including the acclaimed A History of British Art Renaissance and Art of Eternity as well as numerous individual documentaries on art and artists For than twenty years he has published a weekly column on art first in the Independent and recently in the Sunday Telegraph He has written a number of acclaimed boo



10 thoughts on “Caravaggio A Life Sacred and Profane

  1. says:

    Wonderful biography Perhaps 'a life history' is a better word as Caravaggio remains an obscure person The only written records available are court records relating to his almost weekly arrests for insult and violent behaviour There are some letters reporting on his whereabouts and letters reuesting the status o

  2. says:

    A remarkable biography Caravaggio liked to live life in the shadows as reflected in his artwork so the only sources Graham Dixon has to work with for his book are court records from Caravaggio's trouble making and the occasional letter mentioning the artist or his commissions Graham Dixon pieces the puzzles of Ca

  3. says:

    This is a biography of a gifted artist who unfortunately also possessed a proud and difficult personality that got him into freuent trouble with the law Ironically much of what is known about Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio 1571–1610 comes to us from the criminal archives that document his freuent arrests and various depositions in legal interrogations Of course his paintings are also a permanent record of his life's work as

  4. says:

    This review originally appeared at the Washington Independent Review of BooksBeing a tortured rock star is tough in any century Case in point M

  5. says:

    The messy story of what happened to Caravaggio's last paintings is also a microcosm of his afterlife and a parable illustr

  6. says:

    A spectacular biography in every way imaginable The author carefully puts together the historical record to provide as complete a picture of a complex troubled genius as is possibleMore importantly Graham Dixon illuminates each of Caravaggio's paintings in such clear historical literary and artistic detail that anyone familiar with these paintings will now see them with a depth they have never before experience

  7. says:

    Well written engaging and comprehensive biography of Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio the great Italian renaissance painter famous for his dramatic effects of light and shade and intense realism Portrait of Caravaggio by Ottavio LeoniCaravag

  8. says:

    I love art history because it seems very interactive to me I often have the painting being discussed pulled up on my phone so while the author describes specific moments and strokes in the painting I can also be

  9. says:

    I know it's a cliche but facts about this artist's life are so few and far between he is very much like his own paintings em

  10. says:

    ‘Caravaggio’s art is made from darkness and light’Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio born on 29 September 1571 died on 18 July 1610 In between he created magnificent paintings and got himself into a lot of trouble with

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