Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Though it is an understatement, Caravaggio was marvelous.

Death of the Virgin by Caravaggio
1601-1605/6, Oil on Canvas, 3.69 m x 2.45 m
The Louvre, Paris

First of all, do yourself a favor and click here to see a bigger version, this small little image doesn't do a Caravaggio justice! Caravaggio is really something else. He is most known for his drastic use of lighting and shading, or chiaroscuro if you really want to get technical. Caravaggio was quite the controversy back in his day, he really loved to paint the way HE wanted and not the way the church wanted, so that generally didn't go over so well.

Take Death of the Virgin for example. Death of the Virgin was commissioned by a lawyer for his chapel in Rome, but as soon as the church saw the painting they were outraged! Why would they be appalled by such a beautiful piece you ask? Well for a few reasons. First of all, the model for Mary was a prostitute, and according to some sources- the woman Caravaggio loved. Secondly, Mary is pretty darn holy in the eyes of most religions, giving birth to Christ and all usually puts you in that position. Well Caravaggio painted her like she was just the same as everyone else AND on top of all that, she isn't dying peacefully with cherubs surrounding her, she is clearly dead. Her feet are swollen and her stomach is bloated, clear signs that she was not dying, but already gone. They rejected the painting because her attributes to death were far too realistic for their liking, plus they didn't like that her legs were showing, duh Caravaggio!

Now that I have told you all the reasons this painting was thought to be appalling, let's talk about the obvious amazing qualities. Okay, there is no denying Caravaggio's incredible ability to use lighting to his advantage. The light is directly on Mary, so that is where you eye is immediately drawn. You see a beuatifully depicted peaceful young woman lying in a bed surrounded by magestic deep tones of red. It isn't until the light begins to direct your eye to the people surrounding Mary that you realize she has died. Caravaggio had this insane way of depicting emotions through light. He uses this unknown light source to draw your eye around the canvas to the point where you yourself are filled with emotion.

I can't imagine seeing a Caravaggio in real life. I can stare at his work for hours and just be overcome with emotions. Not only am I in awe of his talent, but I constantly have to remind myself that this piece was denied at first. I mean, someone actually said, "No sorry, this is not acceptable." This blows my mind! Sure, I understand the rejection was due largely in part to the subject matter and the way he chose to depict it, but still- come on, it's breath taking.

If you want to treat yourself today, go and look at some of Caravaggio's work and marvel at his creations.

Though it is an understatement, Caravaggio was marvelous.


  1. Agreed...breathtaking, for several reasons. Yes, the beautiful spotlight effect upon Mary makes her look majestic, beautiful and peaceful. It is only when you notice the sorrow in the faces of the others that you realize this is a sad scene. I feel so completely drawn to the stunning huge crimson colored drape above her. It seems like it is meant to represent a larger presence there in the room with them. I dunno know, whatcha think?

  2. Did you see this at the Louvre? The red cloth is just a common theme in picture's depicting Mary's death. Usually she is either laying on it, wrapped in it, figure around her are in it, it's on the wall... things like that. True though, Caravaggio give it a huge presence in the piece. I think that his emotional scene is shadowing by the symbol of Mary's death just to create even more emotion. Good eye!

  3. Did not see this beautiful piece, wish I time perhaps. I love that the red cloth dominates this painting, it's beautiful to me and adds to the austerity of it all.