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Caravaggio: Painter of Miracles

3.63  ·  Rating Details  ·  234 Ratings  ·  36 Reviews
“Matching gorgeous prose to gorgeous artworks, Prose responds to each image as a moment of theatrical revelation, sensual or spiritual, and frequently both.” — Boston Sunday Globe

In Caravaggio, New York Times bestselling author Francine Prose (Goldengrove, Reading like a Writer) offers an enthralling account of the life and work of one of the greatest painters of all time.
Hardcover, 160 pages
Published October 4th 2005 by Eminent Lives
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Community Reviews

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Aug 21, 2014 Ms.pegasus rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: anyone interested in art history
Recommended to Ms.pegasus by: review of GR friend Rick
Overflowing in both talent and self-regard, Caravaggio (1571-1610) remains an enigma. He left behind no diaries or letters to convey his thoughts. Instead, contemporaries chose to chronicle his quarrels, profligate drinking and gambling, violent altercations and hurried escapes from vengeful factions.

This book is a personalized view of the artist's works. While Caravaggio was a highly successful painter of the religious subjects in demand at the time, he assumes a modern cast. His models were l
Jun 10, 2014 Rick rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Part of the Harper Collins Eminent Lives series of short biographies that matches contemporary writers with specific subjects, Caravaggio is an informative and engaging read, presenting the art and life of the controversial painter who died at 39 but lived a tragically full life, creating masterpieces and sparking conflicts, often violent, with equal frequency.

Caravaggio painted from life, drafting friends, neighbors, local peasants and prostitutes, male and female, to be his models. His religio
Feb 08, 2014 Joseph rated it really liked it
Shelves: biography
The strength of this account of Caravaggio’s life lies in the link between his personal history, the historical epoch within which he lived, and of course, his painting. Rather than letting his intellect get in the way of his feelings, Caravaggio “painted” his emotions directly to the canvass. The result is a painting style that has elicited very divergent reactions among critics, running the gamut from creative genius with an odd sense of subtleness to overdone coarse vulgarity. Ironically, it ...more
May 31, 2016 Reuel rated it liked it
Shelves: art
A fairly succinct, yet carefully considered biography of an artist whose erratic temper and violence contrasted with his masterful work. In the centuries after his death (at age 38) classical French Baroque painters, like Poussin, and Victorians, like art critic John Ruskin, despised Caravaggio's work as being indecorous and raw. Yet his use of chiaroscuro and of models drawn from seedy underlife of cities had a powerful influence on many painters who came after him, especially in Spain (Zurbará ...more
Jan 07, 2012 Ebennettclark rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biographical
excellently written, just wish I had the paintings in front of me for context.
Dec 19, 2014 Wendy rated it really liked it
Shelves: books-2014
Francine Prose provides the reader with an excellent essay on the life and works of Michangelo Merisi, da Caravaggio. She describes the violence in two works -- The Flagelaation of Christ and the Crucifixation of Saint Peter as both depicting the moment of suffering before the real suffering has begun.

Quick notes about the book:

1. Darkness
2. Lack of a discernible background
3. Theatrical chiaroscuro
4. Contemporary setting

Depicted the "ordinariness of a miracle" by depicting human beings who face
Aug 11, 2014 Ben rated it it was amazing
As a crash course on the life of a painter, it's hard to imagine one more entertaining and informative than this. Of course, it helps that Caravaggio had one of the most sensational lives of any major artist. When he wasn't defying the aesthetic conventions of his time in furious creative outbursts, he was swaggering around Rome with a sword on his hip, threatening, cursing, and assaulting the populace. The majority of the book discusses his art, punctuated by key biographical episodes, which, t ...more
Jan 14, 2011 Josh rated it really liked it
Given that most of the events of Caravaggio's life have been obscured by history and the impulse to sensationalize a life already riddled with strife, the book can only go so far as a biography. It records the sequence of his works and takes no libertes with unverifiable information. I wanted to read about him because he was brilliant, rumored to have had same-sex relationships, and had apparently committed a murder as the result of having so little control over his temper. A dynamic character a ...more
Apr 07, 2010 Patrick rated it it was amazing
I knew a few things about Caravaggio before I read this short bio. I knew he'd been in trouble for throwing a plate of artichokes at a waiter. I knew he'd murdered a man over a tennis match bet. And I'd been to see The Taking of Christ at the National Gallery in Dublin. That was just enough to whet my appetite.
Francine Prose Brief Lives bio was just what I was looking for - she compresses a lot of information about Caravaggio and the times he lived in in to an elegant, concise book, that never f
Jessica Claycomb
Jul 24, 2014 Jessica Claycomb rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Desiree Wood
Oct 21, 2012 Desiree Wood rated it really liked it
I have admired Caravaggio's art for quite awhile. I think, like everyone else, I knew some scant basics about his tumultuous life and his troubles with the law. This book is a great place to start for someone who, like me, knows the bare bones and is interested in becoming more knowledgeable. This book is not long and is rather concise, which I like. I did at times wonder about how the author drew some of her conclusions. Not that I doubted her, just that I would have liked a little more informa ...more
Cian O hAnnrachainn
Jan 17, 2015 Cian O hAnnrachainn rated it it was amazing
Interesting read that has me longing to visit Italy. The artist remains an enigma but the author provides an intriguing analysis of his work.

While reading I had to pause often to look at the paintings online. Gained a new appreciation for the artist's genius
Daniel Farabaugh
Mar 18, 2015 Daniel Farabaugh rated it liked it
A nice concise book that does a good job of covering the life of Caravaggio. It includes a lot of pictures that allow you to examine them to see what the author is discussing. A surprising number of books about art do not include pictures. Nice, quick read.
Sep 08, 2015 Barbara rated it really liked it
Very well written, the author goes back and forth between Caravaggio's often violent life and his wonderful art. I was able to google the paintings as I read their descriptions and that made this a wonderful read.
Jul 23, 2010 Lindsey rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Caravaggio has been one of my favorite painters since Michelle first introduced me to his work when I visited her in Rome back in college. She took me to Naples to see an impressive Caravaggio exhibit, and we also hunted for all his chapel paintings in Roman churches. I was hooked, but I hadn't thought about him much in the last few years; then John gave me this brief biography (which includes several beautiful color images), and I was fascinated all over again. I loved how Prose jumped around r ...more
This was a great book, very well written. I particularly enjoyed Prose's blatant recognition of how little we know about Caravaggio's life and her explanations and passionate dissection of the pieces. I would highly suggest this book to anyone interested in Caravaggio or art history in general. The length (150 pages) makes it easily approachable and it is a great overview of the artist.

One suggestion I have to readers though is to have a computer or a book of Caravaggio's paintings nearby as you
Jun 28, 2016 Adam rated it really liked it
Helped me dive into the beautiful life of Caravaggio. She described each painting that gave context to his life, the subjects life and to my life. Love it.
Willo Font
Jun 01, 2015 Willo Font rated it liked it
No frills bio of Caravaggio. very factual, goes painting by painting, telling waht little is know of him
Mossy Kennedy
Nov 29, 2015 Mossy Kennedy rated it it was amazing
Lovely, pithy portrayal of Caravaggio and his artistic focus.
Prose's brief life is indeed brief and more focused on the art than Caravaggio's life. A blessing really, since I'd much rather read her luminous descriptions of these brilliant paintings and how they affect the viewer than try to keep track of the many fancifully named Cardinals and orders Caravaggio worked for, or which set of brawlers he may, or may not have been running from at any point in time. If you aren't very familiar with Caravaggio's work, best keep a computer at hand as many of the ...more
Oct 28, 2009 patience rated it liked it
Visual descriptions of landscapes and people are often difficult for me to follow but I feel the author did a good job of simply describing the paintings. There's not much new here for me--I knew most of the details. I do think I've underestimated how much Caravaggio's style differed from his contemporaries and his direct predecessors--his work must have been pretty shocking to some.
I became interested in Caravaggio after visiting Italy last year; seeing his painting of Saint Ursula in Naples wa
Adam Jacobson
Apr 05, 2011 Adam Jacobson rated it liked it
An enjoyable light introduction to Caravaggio.
Being a short essay, it faces two structural challenges. First, as Prose acknowledges, we know very little about the man. So, much of what she writes is interesting speculation but one keeps asking "really, what happened? Also, the limited publishing format means that of the many paintings she describes, you only see a few in the book. Which makes it really only meaningful if one has another larger book at hand or the time to visit lots of churches i
Nov 03, 2015 Stephen rated it liked it
Would it sound silly to say I wish there were more pictures?
Feb 20, 2010 Miles rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A little expensive for what you get, in my opinion. I was hoping for a more in-depth analysis of the works and how they fit into the timeline, but this is essentially a long essay about Caravaggio's life that uses the various works as milestones. Explanations of the works are present but seldom run longer than a page and a half.

It was still very interesting for those with an amateur interest in art. Takes less than a day to read.
May 25, 2012 JodiP rated it it was amazing
This is part of a series of brief biographies of famous people. Prose is also a fiction writer, so I look forward to exploring her other works. This was well-done: the perfect blend of art criticism and biography. I ended up getting another book to have larger pictures and more of the paintings. My biggest wish was that the publishers had been able to include all the works within this small volume.
Sep 02, 2007 Dottie rated it liked it
Shelves: reading-list, 2007, own
Interesting but not quite as outstanding as I was expecting -- given this was Francine Prose and given the subject -- it was just okay -- I liked it but I thinkI'd look beyond this for background before tackling it if I could undo what's been done. Even CR discussion couldn't raise the bar on this one much which is unusual.
Julie Whelan
Mar 15, 2008 Julie Whelan rated it really liked it
Shelves: booksread
This slender volume was a good introduction to Caravaggio's extraordinarily colorful life (he was constantly in fights, was a murder, joined the knights of malta, etc.). Reading it made me want to learn more about him and helped me appreciate his paintings more.
Jan 23, 2012 Samantha rated it liked it
I read this book on the recommendation of the Columbus Museum of Art's book club. It was not my favorite historical art biography, but it was concise and I got the gist of Caravaggio's tumultuous life.
Apr 14, 2011 Rich rated it it was amazing
What a great book. Francine Prose tells the story of Caravaggio with truth and wit. He's not exactly the sort of guy you'd invite to a dinner party but he was THE rock star of his time and lived that way...
Apr 07, 2013 Jen rated it did not like it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
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Francine Prose (born in 1947 in Brooklyn, New York) is an American novelist. She graduated from Radcliffe College in 1968, and received a Guggenheim fellowship in 1991. She has sat on the board of judges for the PEN/Newman's Own Award, and her novel Blue Angel, a satire about sexual harassment on college campuses, was a finalist for the National Book Award. She is now teaching at Bard College.

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