Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Caravaggio: The Rise to Prominence

Caravaggio's Cardsharps (1594) was one of the first paintings to help earn him the attention of an influential Cardinal.  The painting is somewhat theatrical in nature and it was later in his career that Caravaggio would begin to use blackness and shadow as a tool to separate that relevant to the scene and that not, a strategy most strongly influencing the visual and literary style of "Bar Fight."

Even the greatest have to start somewhere.  Caravaggio had arrived in Rome with no money and often had to take on work that was very unpleasing to him.  "Worse, he was given nothing but salad to eat in the evening, which served as appetizer, entree and desert (…)  After a few months he left with little recompense, calling his benefactor and master 'Monsignor Salad.' "

-That final quote was taken from Giulio Mancini's account of Caravaggio's life.

After he finally gained the patronage of Cardinal Francesco Del Monte his career rapidly skyrocketed to fame but he was seemingly unproductive during the earliest years of his life.  The ultra-conservative 1500's were hard times for an aspiring rockstar.

The strong contradiction of light and dark in Caravaggio's much later painting of  St. John the Baptist (1604) suggests a man in turmoil.  The painting marks the point in Caravaggio's career in which a distinctive use of blackness became definitive of his style.  It was created two years before he murdered Ranuccio Tomassoni, the time in his life in which he was described as one who would spend "a month in the streets for every two weeks in the studio, swaggering about with his sword at his side, 'with a servant following him, from one ball-court to the next, ever ready to engage in a fight or an argument'."

Saint Jerome Writing (Caravaggio, 1606) is the painting that more or less lends its namesake to Chapter 37 of Bar Fight, "T. Maxwell Writing," described in the novel with a computer in the place of a skull and modern clothing replacing the robe, sans beard.

Caravaggio's work, much like his life, much like the unknown fiction novel he would inspire some 406 years later, was a constant contradiction between, light and dark, "the sacred and the profane."

Close up of Caravaggio's depiction of the Virgin Mary, The Madonna of the Palafrenieri was rejected from the Vatican due to its obvious sensuality.  This was four years before his death.
The four images above have been taken from the public domain.


Mancini, Giulio.  (1617-1621). On Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio from Considerazioni sulla pittura.  (2006). The Lives of Caravaggio.  London, Pallas Athene.

Graham-Dixon, Andrew.  (2010).  Caravaggio:  A Life Sacred and Profane.  New York, W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.

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