London-Based Art Historian Clovis Whitfield Finds Answers to Some of the Mysteries of Caravaggio (from

LONDON.- An important new study of Caravaggio by a leading international expert stands the conventional modern view of this controversial painter on its head. Caravaggio’s Eye by Clovis Whitfield rejects the current obsession with Caravaggio as a violent street brawler reputed to have been homosexual and instead provides a compelling picture of a revolutionary whose grasp of new technology threatened the artistic establishment’s very existence.

Whitfield, a London-based art historian and dealer in Old Master Paintings, finds answers to some of the mysteries of Caravaggio’s success by regarding him as an artisan who stumbled across a revolutionary way of capturing the appearance of what he saw around him. His revolution was one of technique rather than style and involved the sophisticated use of a camera obscura and so-called ‘burning’ or parabolic mirrors.

By exploiting new advances in glassmaking and optics and the contemporary fascination with light, Caravaggio found a way of making realistic copies of what the camera obscura projected onto a wall. This was sensational and transformed him from a craftsman doing piece work for a souvenir shop to a name known throughout Europe.

Caravaggio’s Eye, to be published by Paul Holberton shows how Caravaggio’s increasingly sophisticated use of very limited technology brought about the first major change in the understanding of vision for thousands of years. Rather than being limited by the imagery of earlier masters and unlike his colleagues, who were constrained by convention and the master-apprentice relationship, he was able to embark on new … READ MORE ON ARTDAILY.ORG


One thought on “London-Based Art Historian Clovis Whitfield Finds Answers to Some of the Mysteries of Caravaggio (from”

  1. The Annunciation painting is typical of the way that Caravaggio orchestrates light. For him the light is in the service of the narrative. He will not give us the face of that angel. There is something else more important, the transcendent story. The light begins on the angel’s back, shoulder, and arm, and then leads to the Virgin. He is in complete control of the formal elements of the painting and he never feels restricted by conventional thinking, as in feeling obliged to describe the face of the angel. Neither was his life restricted by conventional thinking.

    Caravaggio, the choreographer of figures, uses the light to pull the viewer’s eye around the canvas at will. To brand him only a realist painter is to ignore his great and original compositional gifts. He is much less a slave to scientific optics than you would imagine. He invents and decides where he wants the light to be. He is the director with tight control, he is the swordfighter who paints not with temerity, but with slashing force.

    These three painters are celebrated for their realism because they make us believe what they paint. In our post-photographic, scientifically ascendant world many “I know how they did it” fools can only grasp a technological explanation about the paintings, so they, without studying the art, theorize that Caravaggio and Vermeer used the camera obscura. These artists did not use that crude tool. How could it tell Caravaggio how to paint clouds or how to paint a mystery. Could a mechanical device tell Vermeer how to paint light that is saturated with peace?

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