CARAVAGGIO by Andrew Graham-Dixon


A Life Sacred and Profane
Age Range: 1571 - 1610
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Expansive life of the masterful yet mercurial artist.

Even though he apprenticed and served in several studios, Caravaggio (1571–1610) painted according to his own rules, updating Bible stories with his own vision of violence. He was an autodidact unencumbered by current artistic customs, and he painted what he saw in the pious realism fostered by Carlo Borromeo, reviving the empathic visualization of Francis of Assisi and the Sacro Monte of the Piedmont region. Regressing to the art that preceded the High Renaissance, Caravaggio established an entirely new genre of stark realism and visceral detail. He never did preliminary sketches and painted only from carefully set up models; he was unable to paint from imagination or memory. His virtuosity, mastery of chiaroscuro and ability to make the sacred profane established him as the ideal for painters as varied as Rubens, Velasquez, David and even Picasso, who invoked his use of realism as he painted Guernica. British art critic Graham-Dixon (Michelangelo and the Sistine Chapel, 2009, etc.) brilliantly points out how Caravaggio’s paintings reflected a violent man in violent times, and self-portrait insertions in many of his paintings reflect the progression of the artist’s agonies. As the artistic capital of the world, Rome quickly recognized his talent, providing many patrons to bail him out after his frequent violent encounters. His capacity for trouble mirrored his art, “a series of lightning flashes in the darkest of nights.” Because he wrenched so much from the depths of his soul into his paintings, it’s no wonder he lived such a short life.

An impressive web of biography, social history and art history.


Pub Date: Sept. 12th, 2011
ISBN: 978-0-393-08149-7
Page count: 544pp
Publisher: Norton
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1st, 2011


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