Esthetics matter when you are in a city known to be the greatest repository of artworks anywhere. Rome is a gritty, pretty city filled to the gills with art and visitors.
The backdrop for all this art is grand and not-so-grand museums, which charge a few bucks, well worth the cost. But there is plenty of art to view in churches, piazzas, streets, and alleys, all free for the looking.
As a lifelong student of art history and a lousy painter, one aspect of my sojourn in Rome was to see as much of it as I could take in—specifically to find as many works by Caravaggio as possible. Fortunately I had a safe and comfy pad, a neat apartment in Trastevere, (credit here to Rich Greenbury @ Crib Rentals Rome) from which to start my daily wanderings. I was just off Piazza San Cosimato, an unassuming little corner of Rome, in a great neighborhood.
Caravaggio’s paintings are scattered about the city, some hidden in plain sight. My plan was simple, get up and prepare myself for the day, then start walking knowing that whichever direction I walked, a Caravaggio might be near at hand. I kept a list handy in my bag.
To appreciate his works, a little knowledge of his life helps to create a context for what he achieved. (I urge you to take a few minutes to look him up online. Check out www.caravaggio.com .
Born in 1571 (?), Michaelangelo Merisi, who later took the nameCaravaggio, had his life was thrown to an uncertain future at age 6, when his father and grandfather, respectable, Milanese, died during the famine and plague that engulfed the city. His mother then left with her children
Apprenticed at a young age to an artist’s workshop, he started his career as a working artist in a sort of assembly line art studio, painting fruits. He mastered that and struck out on his own without commissions in hand—a risk-taker. Heplunged through life, moving through periods of great productivity, success, then bad behavior,causing him to flee for his life, a hunted man. He painted non-stop for a few weeks, then strutted around Rome (servant in his stead), drank, brawled, caroused, loved, and painted some more. He broke with traditional rules of paintings (and life) and broke through the confines of the canvas. His work hits you in the face. Hugely talented, he is described as prodigious, monstrous, adventurous and visionary. He was known in Rome, Florence, Malta, Naples, and Sicily. The drama he brought to his canvases reflects the drama of his brief and frenetic life. He died around age 38 in 1610. He is considered a Baroque painter.
He depicted heroic and everyday scenes with virtuosity and immediacy. He changed the way painters paint and the way viewpaintings. In a playful and sardonic way, he painted himself as the subject of some of his most noteworthy masterpieces so we see the beauty of his youth and the beleaguered, tortured face of the man.
Caravaggio’s demise remains a matter of conjecture still. The biographer Graham-Dixson suggests that he was sexually adventurous, worked as a pimp, fathered an illegitimate child, and murdered Ranuccio Tomassoni in a dispute over the honor of the guy’s wife. He fled to Malta and took refuge among knights but got into another brawl and was himself assaulted in Naples, his face disfigured in the attack. The tavern he was outside of was one frequented by known homosexuals, leading to speculation about his appetites.
Perhaps he died from an infection due to the slash, a heart attack caused by his ruthless life, or a combination of factors. It is also thought he was trying to catch up with a ship that had left the port of Naples, with his paintings on board, but the boat, so to speak—perhaps he died running along the shoreline was after it. He was hoping for redemption—a Papal pardon, but he did not live to see it.
His supposed remains were unearthed some years ago and DNA testing was done. Results were inconclusive but he could have had lead poisoning. However, since the remains were not definitively his, this theory doesn’t hold up to scrutiny.
We know that he murdered a man in Rome and fled. Did he carry paints with him? Canvas? How did he run, where did he hide, where did he paint and how did he stay alive?Who loved him? Whom did he love?
As I prepare to leave after a month’s stay, I realize the city has me on art-overload and my capacity to take in any more masterpieces is strained. All this art makes you dizzy. I wonder, if you live here, do you become blind to it or inured by it?
Rome is full of mysteries and if we had all the answers, what would be the fun of coming here to discover on our own?
This site is very helpful and the narratives are well written. http://www.arttrav.com/rome/caravaggio/
You can find his works at:
- Borghese Museum.
- Capitoline Museum
- Vatican Museum
- San Luigi del Francesi, Contarelli Chapel, Near Piazza Navona
- Santa Maria del Popolo, Cesari Chapel
- Villa Corsini in Trastevere
(This is not meant to be the definitive list but a means to get you going on a treasure hunt.)