Project Description

Six Caravaggio Paintings in Baroque Rome

Six Caravaggio paintings capture the spirit of Baroque Rome.  They show the destitute and the well-to-do in the capital of expensive clothes and empty wallets, where the glitter of gilding gave the appearance of solid gold…

Caravaggio's paintings in situ include the tryptich of Saint Matthew at the Church of San Luigi dei Francesi

Caravaggio lived theatrically, according to the dictates of era.  He was famous for his artistic innovations and his issues with anger-management. In 1606, the genius artist fled Rome after murdering a rival on a sports ground near what is now Via di Pallacorda.  It’s just a five-minute stroll from Piazza Navona and the palazzo (aristocratic home) where Cardinal Del Monte lived and hosted the young Caravaggio.  Before that, Caravaggio played the starving artist with his bohemian painter friends.  But that would change when Cardinal Francesco Del Monte discovered his paintings.  After providing the hot-tempered youth with a small stipend, art supplies, and the latest technology in lenses and optics, Cardinal Del Monte helped him obtain commissions from high-ranking prelates.

Despite his vertiginous rise to fame, Caravaggio died penniless, before his 40th birthday, and in exile.  Nevertheless, he transformed the European art scene during his reckless and extravagant life.  After all, his style was controversial, and wildly innovative.  Even after his premature death could not damped his success.  His vision would contaminate other artists’ works for quite some time.  And although it sounds like an exaggeration, art in Italy died with Caravaggio.

Caravaggio’s Rome

First we’ll meet in Piazza Navona, which was the heart of Caravaggio’s Rome.  There we’ll discuss life in general in the city in the 1600s, which gives us a framework to better understand Caravaggio.  Then we’ll look specifically at Caravaggio and how he interacted with the city.  For example, in front of the Spanish mother church of San Giacomo, located on Piazza Navona’s southern side, Caravaggio’s temper flared.  It is here, according to a police blotter, that Caravaggio nearly brained a notary clerk to death. After all, he had offended Caravaggio’s girlfriend and model.

We’ll focus on this and other dramatic episodes in Caravaggio’s life as we explore his haunts.  And of course we’ll discuss his habits, his personality, his training, and his revolutionary techniques that allowed him to “photograph” his subjects as we stroll from Piazza Navona to Piazza del Popolo.

The Baroque Churches Where We’ll Admire Caravaggio’s Paintings in Situ

The first official stop on our Baroque Rome tour is the Church of San Luigi dei Francesi (Saint Louis of the French community in Rome). There we’ll admire three of Caravaggio’s paintings in situ.  The amazing triptych is dedicated to the Life of Saint Matthew.  We’ll focus on his calling, his work as an evangelist, and his martyrdom.  A detail from the Calling of Saint Matthew can be seen in the photo.

Nearby stands the church of Sant’Agostino.  Here Ermete Cavalletti commissioned Caravaggio to replace his private chapel’s sculpture with an oil painting of the Madonna of Loreto.  (Well, actually, Ermete’s widow probably commissioned Caravaggio.)  Provocatively, Caravaggio used his prostitute girlfriend, Lena, to pose as the Virgin Mary!

Last of all, we will examine Caravaggio’s Calling of Paul and Crucifixion of Saint Peter in Santa Maria in Piazza del Popolo.  As usual, Caravaggio’s trademark realism includes dirty feet, human brutality, and a crude flash of light used to “photograph” the moment.  Saint Peter’s crucifixion exemplifies the drama of Caravaggio’s paintings and can be seen in the photo.

Caravaggio's Baroque paintings include the Martyrdom of Saint Peter in the Church of Santa Maria del Populo in Rome

Advice and Ideas About Baroque Rome and Caravaggio’s Paintings in Situ

We can explore Caravaggio’s Baroque Rome and Paintings in Situ whenever you’d like, but we need to keep the three churches’ opening hours in mind:

Over the years, the Church of San Luigi dei Francesi‘s opening hours and days have changed.  At the moment, they are Monday through Friday from 9:30 to 12:45 and then from 2:30 to 6:30. (On Saturdays and Sundays, their opening hours are shorter.)

The nearby Church of Saint Augustine opens from earlier than you’ll want to get up until 12:00 and then from 4:00 to 7:30.

The Church of Santa Maria del Popolo opens earlier than Daniella wants to get up until 12:30 and then from 4:00 to 7:00 on Mondays through Thursdays.  On Fridays and Saturdays, the church opens early and stays open until 7:00 p.m.  However, it’s closed on Sundays.

Dress codes are not stringent, but better safe than sorry.  Make sure you can cover your knees and shoulders in a pinch.  (Daniella recommends bringing a multipurpose scarf!)

If Caravaggio fascinates you, consider another tour with Daniella that looks at six Caravaggio paintings at the Borghese Gallery!  Or check out his repentant Mary Magdalene, saucy Saint John the Baptist, and Flight from Egypt at the Galleria Pamphili, Judith and Holophernes, Narcissus, and John the Baptist at the Galleria Barberini, or the Fortune Teller at the Capitoline Museums!

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