M: The Man Who Became Caravaggio
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M: The Man Who Became Caravaggio

3.88 of 5 stars 3.88  ·  rating details  ·  2,038 ratings  ·  59 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...more
Paperback, 570 pages
Published February 10th 2001 by Picador (first published 1998)
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Elle Saverini
Dec 07, 2008 Elle Saverini rated it 5 of 5 stars
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
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...more
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...more
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
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
KV Taylor
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...more
Melanie Samay
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...more
Fadilla Putri
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
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...more
Slow going, but worth the read. The pictures in the book suck, but there are good high resolution zoomable photos at http://www.caravaggio.com/preview/col.... 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...more
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
Mary Ellen
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
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
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.
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.
Eric Armusik
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.
Johnny Thief
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...more
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...more
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
Amber Bennett
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
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
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
Dennis Gray
I've long been a admirer of Caravaggio's work and was keen to read his biography. What struck me most was the image Robb gives us of the artist's world at the turn of the 17th century. Quite frankly change the names, art, weapons, and move things to LA and you could easily mistake this for the life of Tupac or Mac Dre. Parties in local mansions with plenty of female hangers-on, sword fights in the street, numerous run-ins with police; the more things change the more things stay the same.

This is...more
Great background to looking at his paintings... You find yourself in Rome tracking them down. Dragging spouse and kids along :-), only prob is you need to buy another book of the paintings to understand the points being made.
Robert Ballantyne
This is a memorable read on one of the most enigmatic and important artists in Western culture. He frequently speculates convincingly and his vigorous research is compellingly evoked. His critical interpretations are sometimes excellent but limited. He merely mentions the intellectual nexus of Galileo and others that Caravaggio would have know without any attempt to integrate it into an analysis of the paintings. And the ridiculous comparison of Caravaggio's dark scenes with the photography of W...more
Interesting and informative, however I could only read this book a little at any one sitting. I found it a long tough read. Great historical perspective.
Diana Smith
When I closed this book, I felt like I knew the man, the artist, the human being... it was that good.
Ian Kloester
A well-researched book on someone who was arguably the first to portray everyday people and their passions as the saintly characters in italian religious renaissance art, delighting his patrons, and upsetting the establishment along the way. Peter obviously has a passion for his subject, but I found it a little too long, with too few references becoming the basis of a little too much conjecture. Would have loved more of the art discussed shown, in whole, in colour too. Ultimately, Caravaggio is...more
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caravaggio 2 15 Aug 12, 2012 03:28AM  
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