A fictionalized account of the Italian painter’s tumultuous life hews to the historical timeline.
The painter Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, better known today simply as Caravaggio, was the most famous painter in Rome when he lived there in the late 16th and early 17th centuries. His distinctive painting style—unique at that time—gave his mostly religious themes a gritty, accessible feel, even as his use of common people as models (including prostitutes for the Virgin Mary) appalled many. Moss’ story contains factual historical references—all the people, places, police reports, and depositions it contains actually existed—but is told through Caravaggio’s (necessarily imagined) eyes in this first-person, present-tense narration. When Caravaggio’s first apprenticeship ends due to his temper (a temper that will get him into trouble on a regular basis), Cardinal Francesco Maria Del Monte takes him under his patronage, where Caravaggio thrives. It’s a very human story, as Caravaggio relays his creative inspirations, petty rivalries, brawls, and drinking activities and mentions his many assignations with courtesans and prostitutes. There are no Caravaggio paintings illustrated, which would have been a plus, but they are easy enough to access on the internet. Fictional letters and journal entries from various people in Caravaggio’s life that are interspersed between chapters feel unnecessary.
Overall, Moss tells an absorbing, informative story set in a fascinating time replete with political intrigue, bustle, and corruption. (author’s note, timeline, bibliography) (Historical fiction. 12-17)