Sunday, April 20, 2008

Caravaggio Rocks

I'm currently reading about the Italian Renaissance artist, Caravaggio. I've always admired the dramatic pictures that he made. He created emotional religious scenes, lusty classical themes of pagan gods and most of them included beautiful young men as featured subjects. I always put him in the same classical category as Michelangelo, Leonardo, Raphael, etc. As a matter of fact, he was almost a contemporary of those guys. Lived just slightly afterward. What I'm just beginning to learn is that he had a rock star personality that rivaled his artistic talent.

The painting featured here is obviously an interpretation of Bacchus. He has the toga, the grape leaves wreath on his head and the obligatory cluster of gapes in hand. All that's missing is the bloated, gluttonous physique. However, I personally prefer this younger more muscular figure. I've seen this painting in art history books, encyclopedias, the Internet, for years. But, until I recently read a biography of Caravaggio I didn't know the whole story. This painting is actually a self-portrait. The drunken Bacchus in this picture is the face of Caravaggio himself.

It seems that Caravaggio was a real wild man of the art world. He got into a lot of trouble during his lifetime. He was always drinking, feuding, and brawling. It was only due to the fact that he had influential patrons that respected his work that he was able to avoid a lifetime of prison. He did spend his share of time in jail. It seems that he was always pulling a knife on someone, throwing rocks at them, you name it. It sounds like he was the Russell Crowe or Naomi Campbell of the art world. It didn't help things that he was frequently intoxicated and sick from drink.

I regret that because of his undisciplined personal life that Caravaggio died way before his time. His painting career lasted only 15 years. But I've been so glad to hear that this guy was a "real" person. There is no way to force him into the idealized role of academic Renaissance artist. He was perhaps one of the most original, talented, and creative of his time. But, he was just a regular guy.

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