Another Caravaggio Exhibit?

Rome is obsessed with Caravaggio lately, and I, for one, can relate. I mean, how can you not love art history's favorite bad boy? The artist who dared to paint the world as he saw it and not as the church told him to? I have travelled to Naples, Sicily, Malta and further, just to track down Caravaggio paintings. One of my life’s goals is to see every work he ever painted. 

But even I have to point out that Rome’s Caravaggio fever is starting to get out of hand. Since the year of Caravaggio’s death has been hotly debated (it was originally believed to have been 1609, but now art historians agree it was 1610), we got to celebrate the 400th anniversary of it for a good two years.

A joint Caravaggio/Francis Bacon exhibit at the Borghese Gallery in 2009 kicked off the Caravaggio madness (I know what you’re thinking: what in the world do Caravaggio and Francis Bacon have to do with each other? Bacon was born in 1909, so it was Bacon’s 100th birthday and Caravaggio’s 400th death-day. A bit contrived, perhaps?) But as luck would have it, his death was decided on officially as 1610 in 2010, so another exhibit was in order, this time at the Scuderie del Quirinale, and I must admit, it was spectacular, with many works from private collections that I would have had a difficult time seeing otherwise.

The following 12 months saw a parade of Caravaggio exhibits, one right after the other. The Roman art-going public apparently couldn’t get enough, and the city of Rome cashed in on the craze by dreaming up any possible subject for an exhibit: one recreated his studio to hazard a guess at how he was able to paint so well from life (La Bottega del Genio, Palazzo Venezia), one displayed works by his many followers and imitators (I Caravaggeschi, Palazzo Ruspoli), another one followed his career through the police reports he appeared in (Una Vita dal Vero, Archivio di Stato) and yet another was entirely dedicated to the techniques he utilized to paint the Contarelli Chapel at San Luigi dei Francesi (La Cappella Contarelli, Palazzo Venezia).

Now that it’s 2012, you know what I could really go for? An exhibit about Caravaggio. I mean, he just doesn’t get any press these days. No wait, I’ve got it: let’s have an exhibit on artists painting in Rome during the same period as Caravaggio, without any actual paintings by him (ok, ok, maybe we’ll put in one) and then let’s slip his name into the title so that people will go see it! I mean, who’s going to pay to see an exhibit on Giovanni Baglione?

This is actually very common, I have found. Case in point: this year’s big Botticelli exhibit that was actually on Filippino Lippi. At least the title of this one was more honest: Rome in the Time of Caravaggio. Disclaimer: nowhere does it say you will see any actual works by Caravaggio at this exhibit! Still, just his name is enough to make people form a line out the door and shell out 10 euros.

Now, after all my complaining, I have to admit, I really liked the exhibit. I knew in advance that the only Caravaggio I would be seeing was one I can see in a church in Rome for free anytime I feel like it, (without 74 people crowding around it), so I didn’t get my hopes up. But the exhibit was so well curated and some of the paintings so glorious that I can honestly say, I thoroughly recommend it, even if you’re starting to feel ODed on Caravaggio.

Here are a few of the highlights, and I will go into greater detail in the next few days.

  Susanna and the Elders , Arthemesia Gentileschi

Susanna and the Elders, Arthemesia Gentileschi

  St. Cecilia and the Angel,  Carlo Saraceni

St. Cecilia and the Angel, Carlo Saraceni

  The Penitent Magdalene , Giovan Francesco Guerrieri

The Penitent Magdalene, Giovan Francesco Guerrieri

  Madonna and C  hild , Orazio Gentileschi

Madonna and Child, Orazio Gentileschi

  St. Augustine in His Studio , attributed to Caravaggio

St. Augustine in His Studio, attributed to Caravaggio

Is the above painting actually a long-lost work by Caravaggio? What do you think?

  The Fortune Teller , Simon Vouet

The Fortune Teller, Simon Vouet

All images provided courtesy of Civita Press Office.