Victorious Love, in the Gemäldegalerie in Berlin becomes a recurrent theme in Peter Robb’s book.
Over the beginning of the year, I found myself reading again. With two Didion books, via the tablet, I was almost ready to take on more heavy reading. I bought Peter Robb’s M: The Man Who Became Caravaggio for a dollar in my local library bookstore. I was just in the library at the right time and figured it was time to get some culture about the important pre-Baroque master. Four years ago in the spring of ’10, in Scuderie del Quirinale, Rome, there was an excellent retrospective of Caravaggio’s work, and to this day several of the images, including the Desposition, which the blue of Mary’s veil, sings.
I love the angel in this one, he looks like he just got finished with the perfect shave! Caravaggio always uses browns well, as they lend themselves to color in his paintings. Notice how he takes a space a shoves everyone into it. Below, even more so, where a large red curtain takes up the upper half of the painting. This is already outrageous and logical for Caravaggio. Meanwhile, in one section, off center, an entire array of hands. The man in the ruff, lower far left, is already a premonition of Frans Hals!
What makes Caravaggio so important is that he serves as a bridge. From Renaissance classicism, sidestepping to some extent Mannerism, Caravaggio lays down a track as a guide to Rubens, Velazquez, Rembrandt. Not only that, he is the one Italian I can think of, with the exception of Titian, who has a feel for texture. The rendering of skin, cloth, hair, metal, feathers, all seem so essential to what he does in paint.
Robb’s 500 page book is about as authentic as it gets. His careful citations, with much background information, give us a clear picture of a difficult and somewhat elusive personality. His careful research, justifies his very careful speculation on what no other writer has given us. We have a more complete picture of the painter’s roots to his unfortunate end. I say that, instead of death, because even here, the author has to investigate through a plethora of suppositions, and he does so with much care and detail.
We know of Caravaggio, as a man who had great impact on future painters of his generation. Especially those up north. Caravaggio is always the source of interestingly lit paintings, becoming the impetus for set designers and photographers throughout time. No Italian beats him on tactile values, so that skin next to fabric or any other material takes on special qualities, and he gets better as he gets older. If that is possible in so young a working life.
As Robb explains, Minniti served as a model and a protege of Caravaggio in his earlier years in Rome. In many of Caravaggio’s earlier paintings (Boy with a Basket of Fruit, Boy bitten by Lizard), Minitti is recognizable. Minniti was present when Caravaggio killed a man in Rome. He escaped to his native Sicily, where he became a painter of note. Later, Minitti gave Caravaggio cover when he escaped from Malta with a death threat on his head.
In the end, we may be left with a love story of sorts. Or perhaps several. It has a lot to do with our perception. Is Caravaggio simply a pedophile? A fact that the author uncovers that seemed to be so complex that it became somewhat invisible through a shared cultural denial. Is he a murderer, subject to wilder than normal Italian rage, which drives him to fool hearty and dangerous behavior? News of his death leads us empty and confused. Is he simply an enigma? Or has time, like the ocean to the beach, obliterated the path to his true story.