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M: The Man Who Became Caravaggio

3.89  ·  Rating Details ·  3,998 Ratings  ·  66 Reviews
A New York Times Notable Book of the Year

As vividly and unflinchingly presented herein with "blood and bone and sinew" (Times Literary Supplement) by Peter Robb, Caravaggio's wild and tempestuous life was a provocation to a culture in a state of siege. The end of the sixteenth century was marked by the Inquisition and Counter-Reformation, a background of ideological war ag
Paperback, 570 pages
Published February 10th 2001 by Picador (first published 1998)
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Harold Johnson No, I do not think it is slow going and tough to get through. For me the historical research into the records of the time including the details of the…moreNo, I do not think it is slow going and tough to get through. For me the historical research into the records of the time including the details of the court proceedings, the cultural milieu, the identity of the most prominent of the models and their trade (some were prostitutes who knew Caravaggio well, one young man was a lover of Caravaggio who himself became a prominent artist and later moved to Sicily), as well as the political details of the Counter Reformation and the paranoid climate at the Rome of the period. It is finally a mystery story about how and why Caravaggio died. Above all though there is a thorough discussion of all the paintings, where they are, and much about who commissioned and who bought them.(less)
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(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Elle Saverini
Dec 07, 2008 Elle Saverini rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: anyone who loves history/art/italy
Recommended to Elle by: self
This is a crime mystery first and foremost - why Caravaggio was murdered on a beach somewhere north of Rome and south of Tuscany. Not for art history lightweights, but the best book I've ever read. Woven into a ruthlessly researched historical tale of the late 1500s-early 1600s, illustrated with color prints which elicit gasps even in miniature, the genius of the much-maligned Caravaggio is laid bare: misunderstood, violent, unwilling to bend for Popes or kings. His sensuous and clairvoyant use ...more
Jan 11, 2008 Lilias rated it really liked it
Apparently Peter Robb loves Caravaggio's work even more than I do, and I have yet to meet anyone who likes his work at all; so it was a pleasure to read a biography that was told with such enthusiasm about this artist that I adore. Actually, this book was a little overwhelming for me. I could only read a few pages at a time because there was so much information, and it was all information that I wanted to learn.

Something else added to my slow going. I did not like Robb's writing. I got very fru
Jan 22, 2011 Dena rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
I studied art history at the University of MN and first got to know Caravaggio in a 16th/17th century Italian painting class. That this seminal artist was only rediscovered centuries after his mysterious death is fascinating on it's own, but to read the details of his short and unusual life makes his story that much more compelling.

I read this in the weeks before a trip to Rome and carried it with me, using it as my Roman guide book; searching out infamous piazzas, campos, and dark corners of ch
Completely fascinating at times, but ultimately difficult to get through. If you're looking for an introduction to the life of Caravaggio, this is perhaps not it, but this certainly shows the darker more scandalous side of this swashbuckling, dueling, murdering, running from the pope, genius painter who, by all accounts, jump-started the Baroque era.
Rob Atkinson
Jul 24, 2011 Rob Atkinson rated it it was amazing
A remarkable bit of detective work this; while Caravaggio's life is much storied -- chiefly about the brawls, his murder of a man in Rome, and his own mysterious death -- the physical evidence documenting that life is scanty at best, and much is hearsay. Robb uses the documented paintings to establish a biographical timeline of sorts, and gathers together much supporting evidence to build a compelling, sympathetic life of the proto-baroque master. His story is solidly grounded in the context of ...more
Melanie Samay
Apr 25, 2010 Melanie Samay rated it it was ok
The subject was really interesting, but I felt like the author dragged things out as long as possible. I think the book should have been half of its length. It sadly had a lot of boring stuff thrown in and the author didn't really know how to engage the reader. I kept reading only because I really liked the artist and wanted to know about his life.
'Aussie Rick'

I picked up this book after reading Desmond Seward's Caravaggio: A Passionate Life. As I stated in my review of that book I had no prior knowledge of this artist and it was the beautiful colour plates that initially attracted me to the book. Peter Robb's account of the life of Caravaggio is a much larger book, over 560 pages with numerous B&W and exquisite colour plates. The story covers all aspects of Michelangelo Merisi's (M) life and the author attempts to answer the questions about this
KV Taylor
Feb 02, 2009 KV Taylor rated it liked it
When this book is brilliant, it's really brilliant. The scholarship has obviously been painstaking, but the presentation detracts from that somewhat. It can't decide if it wants to be a novel or a scholarly work, and I don't think it's quite successful in walking the line between pure entertainment and historical novel (if not fiction). It can be done, but this isn't it.

There's loads of good insight to be had here, though, I'd just recommend to anyone not already used to the weirdly insular and
Nov 12, 2009 patience rated it it was ok
I actually only got through 159 pages of this book before deciding to give up. Most problematic is Robb's writing style. Almost immediately I was irritated by his decision to call Caravaggio by the initial M throughout (for his given name, Michelangelo Merisi). Also by Robb's strange use of italics--couldn't figure out if this represented quotes or emphasis or both. An example of his impenetrable style: instead of "M would have" he wrote "M'd've." No, really.
Despite this I think I did learn some
Mary Ellen
Sep 19, 2012 Mary Ellen rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biographies
Love Caravaggio. Hate Peter Robb. Robb is the written equivalent of a speaker in love with the sound of his own voice. Why use six words when three hundred and fourteen will do? And why actually show the painting you're discussing when you can turn it into pages and pages of rambling text? That said, Robb does have some truly beautiful language and the occasional impressive insight, but you'll have a hard time finding them under all the verbal vomit. Copyright concerns and the scarcity of source ...more
Fadilla Putri
Oct 25, 2011 Fadilla Putri rated it really liked it
Actually, I read this book because my lecturer obliged her students to read this and write essays based on the story. Actually, at first I was pretty interested to continue reading, until I stuck on page 250. I don't know why, but the more I read this book, the more NO other information that I could get from this. So, I decided to stop reading on page 250. However, believe it or not, I had successfully written 5 essays so far! Thank God that there was no sixth essay. Anw, I gave this book 4 star ...more
Jan 25, 2009 Max rated it it was amazing
Slow going, but worth the read. The pictures in the book suck, but there are good high resolution zoomable photos at You can even arrange the paintings in the chronology given in the book (Robb 1998).

*update* Goodreads just sent me a reminder that I've had this book listed as 'currently reading' for three months. Yeah, I'm still working on it. Right now Caravaggio is hiding out from a murder rap in Naples, with 130 pages to go.

*update II* Finished it! Th
Oct 27, 2013 Pewterbreath rated it it was ok
Biography is a tricky animal. On one hand if it gets too gossipy, it turns tabloid and begins to seem cheap. If it's too appropriate on the other hand, it gets dry--you might as well read "Lives of the Saints." For the most part this biography treads well between the two, with some interesting stories coming from Caravaggio's world. At times, though, it gets over-academic and dry, and starts talking about paintings that you don't have included in this text (very vexing. . .that). Ideally, it sho ...more
Apr 22, 2009 Elisha marked it as to-read
Shelves: on-hold
So far I can only read a few pages at a time. I have always had a decent comprehension level, but this is a bit much for me. Maybe I am tired or all the names of the people and what family they belong to and how exactly do they fit into the story? I love Caravaggio's paintings and can not wait to learn more about him. An Art History teacher mentioned the story of his David II which I found extremely interesting as well as one of the most darkest and saddest stories. I wanted to hug him just befo ...more
Sep 06, 2016 Shari rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
have read this book before but wanted to read it again after reading THE LOST PAINTING, by Jonathan Harr. It was so much richer this time around although I had found it wonderful the first time. Robb brings so much color to the narrative. He is not an art historian, but I find it hard to believe that. Does he have the degree? Perhaps not, but he does have the enthusiasm, the historian's talent for thorough and thoughtful research, and a way with words that is on a par, I would say, with Caravag ...more
Dec 28, 2010 Gareth rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book was my introduction to the M figure.
Peter Robb's writing style will give you whiplash. I did find myself going back over pages to make sure I had properly absorbed each dislocated sentence.
It's a courageous and speculative exposé of a dark and macabre character. And completely worth the discomfort.
Feb 28, 2011 Lisa rated it really liked it
The experts on Amazon would quibble with me tagging this as a biography because they say Robb too too many liberties with the facts. I wouldn't know; it was just a jolly good read which enhanced my enjoyment of Carravagio's paintings.
Feb 15, 2011 Ron rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
So far so good. If you want to learn about all the details of one of the most provocative artists who changed art forever this read is for you. I am learning lots.
May 04, 2015 Margo rated it really liked it
This book took me a couple of months to get through. It isn't an easy read. It is packed with information and the footnotes are in the back of the book, which is an annoying setup in my opinion if you want to follow along closely. It has some brilliant photographs of paintings to refer to at intervals in the book, but his work is mentioned so extensively that some outside sources are almost required. I think that Robb tries to set this up as a book about Caravaggio's sordid past, but it almost b ...more
Eric Armusik
Nov 27, 2010 Eric Armusik rated it it was amazing
A long account as to how this great artist came about but none the less a worthwhile book detailing great details of his personal life aside from the artist.
Jackie Allen
Aug 28, 2015 Jackie Allen rated it really liked it
For anyone interested in Caravaggio this book brings him to life. Robb has pieced together the life of this fascinating artist based on journals, police reports and written first hand accounts from those who knew him. This is not a dry, factual book. It is humorous at times and written in every language that is not just about composition and tone and others "arty" type reads like a thriller.

I studied Caravaggio as part of my degree in Fine Art and I referenced this book in one of my
May 25, 2011 Tony rated it it was amazing
A totally absorbing read. Told in an almost conversational way that makes the artist, his rivals, patrons, friends and enemies into real people.
Johnny Thief
Dec 09, 2013 Johnny Thief rated it liked it
A really strange book.

So not an art history book at all, it jumps from minute details and research into early 17th century Italy one minute to raw speculation and near fan fiction on the inner workings of anyone and everyone who MMC (Michalangelo Marisi di Caravaggio) came in contact with ever. I went from loving how lush the inner workings of city life in various Italian cites is rebuild, the tangled political and class structure, the cast of very mortal and fleshed out characters. Lives are r
A massive book which I found massively enjoyable (despite only reading it because an acquaintance said they didn’t!)

I took a look through the photos to begin, then as I came across descriptions of various paintings I tried to find which picture was being referred to only to realise the power of Robb’s writing is such that I had vivid memories of previous descriptions in mind rather than these clipped images from within the larger works. It was quite disorienting at times. I felt like “going back
Maria Grazia
I read an Italian translation of this biography by Australian author Peter Robb, "M. L'Enigma Caravaggio", which I bought in Rome in one of my recent errands with friends around the capital. Honestly, I thought it was a fictionalized biography, instead, it is a biographical work based on a thourough research and a great deal of documents. I've always been attracted by the dark, violent, realistic paintings of the man called Caravaggio from the name of the town he was brought up in. What make the ...more
Scott Cox
Jan 18, 2016 Scott Cox rated it really liked it
A very entertaining, and informative look at the painter called Caravaggio. Robb's prose is almost irreverent; however he makes the time & culture of Caravaggio come alive! Also, I must also admit that I am a HUGE Caravaggio art fan - I tried to find and view any & all of his paintings I could find when I was recently in Rome. Caravaggio's interplay with light and shadows (e.g. chiaroscuro effect) is truly exquisite!
Amber Bennett
Oct 28, 2011 Amber Bennett rated it it was amazing
As vividly and unflinchingly presented herein with "blood and bone and sinew" (Times Literary Supplement) by Peter Robb, Caravaggio's wild and tempestuous life was a provocation to a culture in a state of siege. The end of the sixteenth century was marked by the Inquisition and Counter-Reformation, a background of ideological war against which, despite all odds, brilliant feats of art and science were achieved. No artist captured the dark, violent spirit of the time better than Caravaggio, vario ...more
George Ilsley
This is the second book about Caravaggion I've read in recent weeks and might have enjoyed this one more than I did if I had read it first. There are some problems here with editing. Colloquial Australian expressions are used instead of standard english ("yakka" for example). Also "perv" as a verb is used rather too frequently, to describe someone who might enjoy a particular painting ("perving" on it). This very casual use of language I found unappealing in this context (even when I could figur ...more
Kat Kimball
May 01, 2014 Kat Kimball rated it really liked it
While the storyline narrative isn't terribly fabulous, it still makes for an engaging read. The most amazing part of the book are the paintings themselves - reading their descriptions is like eating a gourmet meal with your eyes. Highly recommended.
Amy Jane
Jun 24, 2012 Amy Jane rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2012
Caravaggio is my favourite artist, and so despite the mixed reviews (the back cover has a quote from Brian Sewell suggesting that it be pulped) I felt I needed to read this. Robb's writing style certainly isn't typical of the usual art historian, and using swears is neither big nor clever. But there's much to be said for an author who can produce a six hundred page book on an artist whose only proof of existence is through his paintings and sparse (and largely bias and non-contemporary) reports ...more
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caravaggio 2 22 Aug 12, 2012 03:28AM  
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Born 1946.

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“the pope had granted the accademia di San Luca the annual right – on saint Luke’s day – to free a condemned man.” 0 likes
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