Caravaggio: Sacred and Profane (from “”)

Yesterday I heard Andrew Graham-Dixon speak at the Tokarska Gallery about the portrait of Caravaggio that he paints in his biography of the artist Caravaggio – A Life Sacred and Profane. Graham-Dixon gave a fascinating and entertaining two hour presentation of Caravaggio’s life and work up until his escape from prison in Malta.  Among the most interesting aspects of the talk was Graham-Dixon’s description of the cultural background in Milan from which Caravaggio came; Carlo Borromeo, Archbishop of Milan, had argued that the High Renaissance art of Raphael and Michelangelo had led the Church astray and that Catholic art needed to engage with the poor masses by means of a popular realism which could grab the attention, through its drama, of those who saw it thereby aiding their meditation and prayer.

Graham-Dixon argued that Caravaggio’s paintings invite a profane reading but, for those able to see, the symbolism of the paintings allows a sacred reading meaning that, in a sense, the painting judges you through your response to it. As a example, he discussedBacchus noting that Bacchus, who is a pre-figuration of Christ, is holding out to us the wine which is his salvific blood and that the rotting fruit symbolises the sinfulness of our lives from which Christ will save us. Caravaggio became caught in a battle between the realist and baroque styles; a debate over the extent to which the Counter-Reformation should engage with the poor masses as Borromeo had argued. The baroque was essentially….. READ MORE ON “””


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