Did You Know…

that Caravaggio was a bad-ass?

I’ve just finished watching the first episode of Simon Schama’s BBC series The Power of Art.  If the life and art of Michelangelo Merisi di Caravaggio had been presented like this to me in art history class, I may have paid more attention to the truly incredible paintings of this outsider maverick.

Prone to scandal, Caravaggio ran with a “gang” of young painters, carried not only a sword without a permit but a dagger as well, and lived by the motto “No hope, no fear“.   His violent temper had him in court, in jail, and eventually, on house arrest.  But enough about his good attributes.

Caravaggio was already pushing boundaries of what was tasteful to include in a painting (rotting fruit and dead foliage) when he was “discovered” by the ultimate patron: Cardinal Francesco Maria Del Monte (is there no one out there that will invite me to live in their palace, provide me with room and board, entertain me with the most intelligent minds and the most accomplished musicians, AND introduce me to all their wealthy, art-supporting friends who will commission work in a steady stream?).

It wasn’t long until the church took notice of this fast rising star.  What matter that Caravaggio uses street people for models, even when portraying divine beings?  The fella can paint!  Who cares that he pushes the envelop?

The Carmelite’s, cared, that’s who.  Rumours that Caravaggio had used the body of a dead whore fished out of the river as model for the Virgin Mother in Death of the Virgin resulted in the painting being returned to him.  It was all downhill from there.

A brilliant artist running haphazardly on the sharp edge of madness: The Leader of the Pack, Rebel Without a Cause, the Wild One.  Yeah…I would have been so into him if we had been in art school together.

I wonder what Caravaggio’s life and work would have been like if he had been sentenced to  anger management rehabilitation instead of house arrest?  Probably damn boring.

He died at age 39, from malaria-induced complications.  I’d tell you more, but it really is worth picking up the series and watching it for yourself.  I for one am looking forward to the remaining 7 episodes, even if they are all about touting a heroic, white, male aesthetic.

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