Naughty but … Nice?

Michelangelo da Caravaggio – what a drunken, jealous, hot-headed mess. I’m sure if psychiatric hospitals existed in the late 1500s, he would have spent time in one – and probably lived a bit longer because of it. Today it seems artists (mostly actors and singers) encourage us commoners to “feel our crazy”, you know, to see where it takes us. But Caravaggio wouldn’t have even made it to even 39 were he alive today if he kept up his shenanigans. Fun to party with, perhaps, but no one you could possibly (read: should) take too seriously.

Image
Caravaggio, Judith Beheading Holofernes, c. 1598.
Oil on canvas, 145 x 195 cm.
Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Antica di Palazzo Barberini, Rome.

Upon discovering Caravaggio, you generally learn about his tumultuous behaviour and mis-behaviour. We’re all aware that he wasn’t a very well-liked person, yet we manage to appreciate his major contribution to the art world – even if he only had 15 years to pull it off. We also all know that his art and name essentially dropped off of the face of the earth after his death until the 20th century. BUT! There were people from before and after his death that greatly admired his strong contrast between light and dark – chiaroscuro – and quickly followed suit – copycats.

Image
Caravaggio, Christ at the Column, c. 1607.
Oil on canvas, 134.5 x 175.5 cm.
Musée des Beaux-Arts, Rouen.

Highlighting the face, hands, ::cough:: bosom, of the characters in a painting draws viewers in. It’s dark, it’s sexy, it’s alluring – okay, maybe not Caravaggio’s The Tooth Puller (1608-1610). It’s almost like anyone in a chiaroscuro-styled painting is up to something that we may not want to see in the light – which, face it, Caravaggio probably was. Viewing one of these paintings is like being in on a dark secret, and who doesn’t like gossip?

Image
Georges de La Tour, The Magdalen with the Smoking Flame, c. 1638-1640.
Oil on canvas, 117 x 91.76 cm.
Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles.

I wouldn’t suggest following your crazy too far (cue in my strong distaste for Lady Gaga). Rather, see eight of Caravaggio’s darkest and most alluring paintings along with 48 others by artists whom he inspired now through 10 February 2013 at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Can’t get to LA? Order this equally dark, but well-illustrated, ebook and learn more of his secrets: Caravaggio by Felix Witting and M.L. Patrizi.

-Le Lorrain Andrews

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