beyond caravaggio

Rowland_1-051117Ingrid D. Rowland at the New York Review of Books:

But most of all, the Caravaggio originals in London’s “Beyond Caravaggio” demonstrate why the painter exerted such an overwhelming influence on patrons and colleagues alike, and why he is so passionately loved today. He can paint beautifully most of the time. He produced marvelous compositions of light beaming forth from the darkness, covered his canvases with luminous whites, full-blooded reds, velvet blacks, but above all, especially later in his career, he painted with restraint, and taste, and a gigantic, compassionate heart.

The restraint shows when we compare his work with that of his admirers. If the young Caravaggio painted several versions of a boy with fruit as a way of advertising his skill at both still life and the human figure, his pupil and follower Francesco Boneri (nicknamed Cecco del Caravaggio—“Caravaggio’s Frankie”) painted a red-haired musician surrounded by a bushel of fruit, cheese, bread, gourds, two glass flasks encased in nets, a hanging head of garlic, a glass vase full of water, and a violin—splendidly painted, like the sitter’s plume, shirt, and brocaded vest, but he could have proven his skill just as cogently with half as many objects. Caravaggio’s painting of Doubting Thomas showed the disciple sticking his index finger into the side wound of Jesus, a startling image already, but discreetly done compared with the way that Giovanni Antonio Galli, called Lo Spadarino (“Little Swordsman”), gives us Christ head-on, staring us down as he spreads the wound wider himself, daring us to play Saint Thomas with our eyes instead of our finger.

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