The Sacred Caravaggio by Jacquemart André
Francesca Cappelletti, professor of art history at the origin of the exhibition in 2015 at the Petit Palais“The Baroque Lowlands, the Rome of vice and misery”, a specialist in Caravaggio, had the idea of focusing on the Roman years of the master of the dark light and his rivalries with his contemporaries. She then proposed to the Chief Curator of Jacquemart André who accepted the challenge;
If Le Caravage has revolutionized painting, its production being limited to about sixty paintings and the spectrum retained, narrow from 1593 to 1606, it took all the persuasion of the Parisian institution which has a remarkable collection of Italian masterpieces to meet this challenge;
The two commissioners, Francesca Cappelletti and Pierre Curie, obtained exceptional loans to bring together ten original Caravaggio models faced with twenty-one of his contemporaries: Arpin’s Cavalier, his master on his arrival in Rome, Giovanni Baglione, Bartolomeo Manfredi, Orazio Gentileschi,… alternately friends or rivals;
With a bellicose temperament, the Caravaggio will be forced to flee Rome following the murder of his partner in the Jeu de Paume, Ranuccio Tomassoni. Sentenced to death in absentia, he found refuge with one of his protectors and patrons, Duke Muzio Sforza Colonna in Paliano, in southern Lazio. This hectic life adds to his legend and premature death from exhaustion at 38 years of age on a beach at Porte Ercole in Tuscany, far from the gold of Roman palaces. Death always surrounded by mystery.
If 3 years of preparation have been necessary for a budget of 1.5 million euros financed by Culturespaces, Jacquemart André’s cultural operator, the result on a scenography by Hubert Le Gall is breathtaking;
From the beginning of the tour, the tone was set with Judith Holofernes (1598), the decapitator of the Barberini Palace in Rome. If this motif was a great success at the end of the Cinquecento, it was because of the masterful interpretation given by the Lombard painter. Building the stage as in the theatre, he opposes two worlds, Holofernes succumbing and the young heroine accompanied by her old servant. Judith, a pretty courtesan, seems almost absent in the face of this beheading, her immaculate white coat, sharply contrasting with the blood spilled and the red of the hanging, proof of this everyday life that the master will erect as sacred. Orazio Gentileschi and Carlo Saraceni, brilliant interpreters of the theme, began the beginnings of caravaggio, while Orazio Borgianni, with David and Goliath, was a rival.
Another novelty of size, the Lute Player (1595), the only Caravaggio of the Hermitage Museum of St. Petersburg, commissioned by the Marquis Vincenzo Giustiniani, an important protector. This young man with an languid break and a half-opened shirt throws like an apostrophe to the spectator, underlined by this lateral lighting which is the artist’s trademark. It is especially in still life considered at the time as a minor genre that the painter illustrates himself, seeking to give “a truthfulness to the objects of nature”, flowers, fruits, music paper and instruments surround the character. Bartolomeo Cavarozzi with “La douleur d’Aminte”takes up this motif of the young melancholic singer accompanied by a sumptuous “Still life with a fruit basket”.
With “The young Saint John the Baptist with a ram” (1602), the Caravaggio broke even further with traditional iconography. The Saint is represented as a mocking teenager hugging not a lamb but a horned ram. His willingly lascivious posture suggests a sensuality enhanced by this nudity offered to the viewer. In the same room is echoed the “Saint John the Baptist holding a sheep” by Bartolomeo Manfredi (Louvre Museum) which highlights the extraordinary posterity of this motif to the followers of Caravaggio.
In the following section dedicated to his contemporaries and rivals, the Ecce Homo (1605?) of the Genoa Museum has a special place, resulting from a competition launched by Massimo Massimi opposing the Lombard to the painters Cigoli and Passignano. Even if Cigoli l”emporte la passion of the Christ of Caravaggio operates an unprecedented revolution with this composition half body where all the light is made on the torso of the condemned, while Pilate bearded dressed in black, really takes to witness the spectator, posture quite unusual.
With the “Dinner at Emmaus” (1606) at the Milan Picture Gallery, a new stylistic step has been taken. The Caravaggio, on the run after Tomassoni’s murder, indulges in a more tragic and tenebrous vision of the Pilgrims, as well as with the Museum of Cremona’s “Saint Francis in Meditation” (around 1606), which has a high psychological density. As if the artist identified with this martyr.
The last stroke of genius of the journey, to offer in the last room a new dialogue between the two penitent Madeleine, the Madeleine called “Klain” and her twin, the “Madeleine Gregori”, never before exposed in Europe. Holy or sinful, drunk or asleep, the line reduced to the essential underlines the contradictory feelings experienced by this figure whose ecstasy is underlined by the abandoned curves and the bare shoulder. The former courtesan indulges in an intoxication that has only a mystical name and prefigures the ecstasy saints of Bernini.
Avant-garde, rebellious and tormented, the genius of Caravaggio is still essential for the future European Caravaggio with representatives such as Georges de la Tour, José de Ribera, Rembrandt… continues to influence artists of younger generations, such as Cindy Sherman who personifies herself in the “sick Little Bacchus”. Nevertheless, the sulphurous Caravaggio remains misunderstood. It is therefore the merit of this exhibition to focus on its decisive years in Rome, which brought an incredible revolution.
Caravaggio in Rome, friends and enemies
until January 28th
Jacquemart André Museum
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