Mirabilia Urbis: Rome Walking Tours

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Caravaggio's Rome
In 1606, the rowdy Michaelangelo Merisi, otherwise known as Caravaggio, fled Rome after murdering a sports rival on a playground near what is now Via di Pallacorda. This site is a five-minute stroll from Piazza Navona and the palazzo of the noble Del Monte family where Caravaggio was considered a welcome guest. Cardinal Francesco Del Monte, thanks to his unusual tastes, had "discovered" the young artist when he was little more than a street urchin. After providing the hot-tempered youth with a small stipend, art supplies, and the latest technology in lenses and optics, the Cardinal helped him obtain commissions from high-ranking prelates.
Nevertheless, Caravaggio died penniless, not yet 40, still in exile after killing an opponent, although he had almost obtained a pardon from Vatican State officials. While alive, he transformed the European art scene and, after his premature death, he continued to dominate and influence it. Although his style was controversial, it was widely recognized as fresh and innovative.
On the left is the facade of what was the Spanish mother church in Rome, San Giacomo, located on southern side of Piazza Navona. It is here, a police blotter from the early 1600s states, that Caravaggio nearly brained a notary clerk who had showered his girlfriend with insults. We'll talk about this dramatic episode and more as we explore the Rome frequented by Caravaggio as he pursued models or good times. We'll discuss his habits, his personality, his training, and his revolutionary optical experiments that nearly allowed Caravaggio to "photograph" his subjects.
The real thrill, however, is following the young painter's artistic development while admiring six of his chapel paintings in their original locations. In San Luigi dei Francesi, we will take in Caravaggio's "triptych" comprised of three different scenes from the life of Saint Matthew: his calling (seen above); his work as an Evangelist; and his martyrdom. (In the typical Caravaggio fashion, it appears that the model for St. Matthew was a tanner who worked in the neighborhood.) Two steps down the road, we encounter the church of Sant'Agostino where Caravaggio was commissioned to replace a small pietà with an oil painting of the Madonna of Loreto. In the guise of the Blessed Virgin, Caravaggio painted a prostitute named Lena, who also may have been an occasional girlfriend. Lastly, in Piazza del Popolo, we will examine Caravaggio's Calling of Paul and Crucifixion of Saint Peter (right). As usual, by using his trademark photographic realism, Caravaggio spares the viewer neither dirty feet, brutal sentiment, or cruel lighting.