This gets points for the acerbic, witty style and the audacity of its premise--a protagonist who spends the entire book in bed, piecing together a 400This gets points for the acerbic, witty style and the audacity of its premise--a protagonist who spends the entire book in bed, piecing together a 400 year old mystery. It loses points for, ultimately, being about as interesting as that premise sounds. The suggestion (made on the front cover) that it is one of the best mysteries ever written is laughable. It's clever, and I can see the appeal, but no way....more
Five hundred pages of wonderfully written and researched biography later, and I still don't feel like I know Caravaggio. I learned so much from this bFive hundred pages of wonderfully written and researched biography later, and I still don't feel like I know Caravaggio. I learned so much from this book, but there is something elusive and incomprehensible about its subject, something that resists explanation. His art was full of deep pools of shadow and blackness, and since "whatever he set out to paint...he always ended up painting himself," we understand that there were mysterious blacknesses inside of him, too, things that can never be known - that most likely he did not even know himself.
Andrew Graham-Dixon seems like an excellent art historian to me - not that I'm any expert. He writes clearly and insightfully about Caravaggio's technique, and explains in detail how his works fit into (or more often defy) the social, religious, and artistic context of his time. But Graham-Dixon is an even better detective. He pieces together, from extremely scanty records, a quite convincing narrative of the painter's life and all of its key episodes. For example, Caravaggio's famously mysterious death is no mystery to Graham-Dixon. He writes: "This is what happened." And then walks you through the evidence, laying out step-by-step what must have transpired in those final few days to leave the greatest painter of his day in an unmarked grave in a little-known Italian port town.
Caravaggio's life and art was defined by dualities - light and dark, sacred and profane, beautiful and hideous, violent and tranquil. I think what's so hard to understand about him, and so fascinating, is what filled the space between these extremes, and what drove him to swing between them so frequently. He had powerful and loyal friends who bailed him out again and again, and in return he painted brilliant works and was handy in a fight. But some spectacular act of self-sabotage was always waiting to ruin it - Caravaggio carried his sword and dagger everywhere, and wasn't shy about using them. It would be a grand adventure story if it wasn't so thoroughly tragic.
But it's that same tension, combined his with prodigious natural talent, that made him a master artist. If he had been a more amiable person, he would probably also have been a more amiable painter, like his second-rate rival Baglione, churning out tasteful, forgettable religious pieces. Instead, he left behind scenes of achingly raw devotion, of suffering and loneliness spotlit by the distant but revealing light of God....more