Caravaggio’s Rome: Six Oil Paintings in Situ
In 1606, the rowdy Michaelangelo Merisi, better known as Caravaggio, fled Rome after murdering a rival on a sports ground near what is now Via di Pallacorda. This site is a five-minute stroll from Piazza Navona and the palazzo where the Cardinal Del Monte lived and hosted the young Caravaggio at the beginning of his career. Cardinal Francesco Del Monte, thanks to his unusual tastes, “discovered” him as he played the starving artist with his bohemian painter friends. 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.
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 and, even after his premature death, he dominated and influenced it. His style was controversial, because it was wildly innovative.
We meet in Piazza Navona to discuss Rome in the 1600 and the Spanish mother church in Rome, San Giacomo, located on the piazza’s southern side. It is here, according to a police blotter from the early 1600s, that Caravaggio nearly brained a notary clerk who had offended his girlfriend. We’ll talk about this and other dramatic episodes in Caravaggio’s life as we stroll and explore his haunts. We’ll discuss his habits, his personality, his training, and his revolutionary techniques that allowed him to “photograph” his subjects.
The real thrill, however, is following the young painter’s development while admiring six of his chapel paintings in their original locations. In San Luigi dei Francesi, we will admire Caravaggio’s “triptych” comprised of three different scenes from the life of Saint Matthew: his calling; his work as an Evangelist; and his martyrdom. Nearby, stands the church of Sant’Agostino where Caravaggio was commissioned to replace a sculpture 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 his girlfriend. Lastly, in Piazza del Popolo, we will examine Caravaggio’s Calling of Paul and Crucifixion of Saint Peter. As usual, Caravaggio’s trademark realism assaults the viewer with dirty feet, human brutality, and a crude flash of light used to “photograph” the moment.