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Since the Mona Lisa affair was reported, other petitions and protests have emerged. Earlier this month (September 17) the protests agains the huge cruise ships that pass through the lagoon in Venice were renewed with vigor. The invaluable Tomaso Montanari has organized a petition against the privatization of the Brera in Milan. At the beginning of the month, in the United States, the New York Times demoted Allan Kozinn, one of its more intelligent music critics, who has been writing for them since 1977 and a staff member since 1991. He is now a "general cultural reporter." Norman Lebrecht, who announced the bad news, received an avalanche of mostly angry and disgusted comments. Petitions were organized on Facebook, urging the Times to change their mind...but to no avail. Kozinn's gone. For some years it has been hard to imagine that once upon a time Paul Griffiths wrote music criticism for The New York Times, and both he and Andrew Porter for The New Yorker.
Everyone agrees that Caravaggio was a revolutionary painter, but the reasons we give often tend toward the superficial: he was a realist, he was provocative, he was theatrical, and so on. The fact is that there were many realist, provocative, theatrical artists before Caravaggio, and many endowed with these qualities after him were influenced by someone else. So what makes Caravaggio so special? Michael Fried claims it was the extraordinary presence of “absorption” and “distancing” in his work. Although Caravaggio was not the first to explore these themes (cf. Michelangelo’s prophets and sibyls in the Sistine Chapel), Fried argues that the Lombard genius was the first to bring them to the fore. He also believes that the (not necessarily chronological) moments of absorption/immersion and distancing/specularity tell us something about the philosophical milieu in which Caravaggio worked. Skepticism challenged the certainty that other minds exist, and Caravaggio responded with a psychological realism more powerful and sophisticated than any philosophical argument.
Caravaggio e caravaggeschi a Firenze, the Galleria Palatina at the Palazzo Pitti and the Uffizi (Florence). Closing January 9th
Caravaggio’s power to captivate us today makes us wonder whether he was not four hundred years ahead of his time. This anniversary exhibition, perhaps more than others across Italy, shows that he was not. His genius was readily recognized and tirelessly sought even during his own day, and even by the Grand Dukes of Florence who had every reason to restrict their patronage to the their own well-established Tuscan tradition. So while artists in Florence remained aloof to the emerging naturalism and quotidian predilections of Caravaggio and the Caravaggeschi, their rulers worked assiduously to acquire the master’s Bacchus, Medusa, and Cavadenti within the first two decades of the seventeenth century. Evidently, the Medici even had it in mind to lure Caravaggio to Florence; something they might well have accomplished had not the painter been forced to flee Rome as a wanted murderer. In his stead, the Grand Dukes enjoyed the presence of protégés such as Artemisia Gentileschi, Battistello Caracciolo, and Theodor Rombouts.
The shows in Italy honoring the four-hundredth anniversary of Caravaggio’s death have been so popular that authorities at the Palazzo Pitti in Florence have announced they are extending “Caravaggio e Caravaggeschi” at the Galleria Palatina until January 9th. Pilgrims can also take advantage of “Caravaggio e altri pittori del XVII secolo” at Castel Sismondo in Rimini until March 28th.
Museums throughout Italy are hosting exhibits to commemorate the four-hundredth anniversary of the death of Michelangelo Merisi: the so-called “Caravaggio.” The year began in Rome with Caravaggio and Bacon at the Galleria Borghese (http://berkshirereview.net/2010/01/caravaggio-e-bacon-galleria-borghese-rome/) and the slightly less contrived, but equally imaginative, “Caravaggio-Lotto-Ribera” at the Musei Civici agli Eremitani in Padova. Naples spread six thematically related exhibits throughout the city to highlight the connections between Caravaggio and late-Baroque Neapolitan masters like Luigi Vanvitelli and Ferdinando Fuga (Ritorno al Barocco, da Caravaggio a Vanvitelli). The Palatina Gallery in Florence is featuring Caravaggio e Caravaggeschi until October 10th, after which several of those works will move to Rimini for Caravaggio e altri pittori del XVII secolo. Perhaps most notable was an exhibit that recently closed at the Scuderie del Quirinale in Rome. Conceived by Claudio Strinati and organized by Rossella Vodret and Francesco Buranelli, it featured a unique collection of Caravaggio’s most famous works collected from museums worldwide. A record 4,000 visitors thronged to see these masterpieces on opening day, well exceeding the 2,500 printed tickets.
Master portraitist Gwenneth Barth describes the realist painter as one always treading a tightrope between two worlds—the conscious mind and its perception of reality—adding: “But are these really different worlds?” This is precisely the question provoked by a highly unique exhibit bringing together thirty masterworks of Caravaggio (1571 – 1610) and Francis Bacon (1909 – 1992) displayed in nine salons at Rome’s Borghese Gallery. The organizers assert that the aim is neither to connect these two figures historically nor to compare them according to generally accepted standards of criticism, but rather to give the viewer an extraordinary “aesthetic experience” on the occasion of the fourth centennial of Caravaggio’s death and the first of Bacon’s birth. Be that as it may, even those wishing merely to gawk at the spellbinding canvases of two of art’s most famous bad boys will leave pondering the relation between the conscious mind and its perception of reality.
Lucy Vivante records her visit to the Castello di Giove in Umbria, Italy.
This week more reviews from Edinburgh and London will appear, as well as from Annandale-on-Hudson, including a symposium on Anglophilia, no less. There was a fine evening of Mendelssohn with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra under Frans Brüggen with the distinguished young violinist Viviane Hagner, Wagner’s Siegfried, from the Royal Opera’s new Ring Cycle, which is receiving its first full performances this year, and—most British of all—the final weekend of the Elgar Festival at Bard. Reviews of several important exhibitions will follow in coming weeks: Richard Long and the Queen’s Flemish pictures in Edinburgh, and in London, the wonderful Millais exhibition at Tate Britain, al well as the major exhibition of the Queen’s Italian art, a once-in-a lifetime opportunity to see great paintings, drawings, and decorative arts rarely shown in public, including the recently “discovered” Caravaggio, which has been so much in the news.