The Other Michelangelo

Caravaggio: The Complete Works

By Sebastian Schutze

Published by TASCHEN

Copyright: © 2015

The other Michelangelo, Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, was born almost 100 years after the Michelangelo of Florence and Sistine Chaple fame, in the northern Italian city of Milian, at the time a part of the Spanish Empire; coming of age as a painter in the dying days of the Renaissance art period and the birth of Baroque, developing and leading a style with an increased attention to detail, lighting, and volume not so much in contrast, but in addition to the scientific realism of the previous 200 years.

Caravaggio took the Baroque art beyond the biblical themes of the Renaissance while retaining the humanism, maintaining naturalism but with detail likely unavailable to painters before him, improving on perspective and volume through the use of light and dark: Chiaroscuro, and giving the subjects an emotional bearing that communicates to the viewer a deportment not obtainable to the first Michelangelo.

The book cover, Judith beheading Holofernes, detail above with full painting shown below, depicts Judith looking down and to the viewers left with a look, according to some, of revulsion and disgust, but my interpretation is one of apathy and possibly puzzlement, as noted by the slight creases between the eyebrows and the bridge of the nose and the minor squint of the eyes. Panning out may add an unquestioning repugnance to the painting but not to Judith’s countenance, it remains one of bemusement, a ‘is this all there is’ to vanquishing one’s enemy, while an old woman looks over Judith’s shoulder concurring, not seeing the gore of the moment but the moral of the act and feeling ‘Good, it is done’. The detail may be there, but the viewers interpretation is still required.

Caravaggio, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

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