Caravaggio is one of the most famous names in European art, for his paintings, but also his irresistibly turbulent life and death. He was the debauched prince of Rome’s 17th century underbelly - hurtling through catamites, prostitutes and duels-a-plenty. His art was fittingly theatrical; Caravaggio is beloved for his magical harnessing of light and dark, plunging his brooding figures into shadow and brilliant white. Dirt and sin and danger: we’re a thousand miles from the remote classicism of the devotional paintings that had dominated beforehand.
Beyond Caravaggio exposes the power the Italian master had over his contemporaries. Hanging his paintings alongside those of his followers, the gallery immerses us in the hooded and violent world of the Caravaggesque. We swim through chiaroschuro, intense naturalism and kindled passions of the Italian and his imitators, of which there were a great many - Cecco, his pupil and catamite, Baglioni, Gentileschi and the extraordinary female painter Artemisia Gentileschi, to name but a few.
You can tell them from a mile, the real Caravaggio paintings. They dominate each room - even the little ones. And that’s the problem with this exhibition. Caravaggio is just too good, and all the other paintings feel like fillers. Nothing stands up to the hollow eyes of John The Baptist in the Wilderness, or The Supper at Emmaus. Even Caravaggio’s drunken fools have the power to blow a lesser artist’s Jesus out of the water.
The show does nothing to dim or dent the Caravaggio we all know and worship. His genius has never shone brighter. You just wish there were more examples of it in the exhibition.
|Beyond Caravaggio review, National Gallery
|National Gallery, Trafalgar Square, London, WC2N 5DN | MAP
|Charing Cross (underground)
12 Oct 16 – 15 Jan 17, Daily 10am–6pm Friday: 10am–9pm
|£Prices not yet released
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