It is not often that eight Caravaggios are exhibited together at an American art museum. It provides opportunity: To study the paintings themselves, to compare them to each other, to see what the Caravaggisti borrowed from the master and to see what they merely tried to borrow. Sometimes, as in the case of LACMA’s “Bodies and Shadows: Caravaggio and His Legacy,” we can even use the Caravaggios on loan as a kind of baseline in an effort to help us understand whether or not a nearby painting might be a ‘new’ or ‘re-discovered’ Caravaggio.
(The LACMA show, which is on view through Feb. 10, 2013 and will travel to the Wadsworth Atheneum, is the fraternal twin of “Caravaggio and his Followers in Rome,”last year’s show at the Kimbell Art Museum and the National Gallery of Canada: Same idea, different checklists. The Kimbell show claimed ten Caravaggios, the National Gallery of Canada’s three more. That prompted Richard Spear to take to Burlington Magazine to argue that the two additional works shown at NGC weren’t Caravaggios and that a third NGC-exhibited ‘attributed to’ painting, weren’t either. This section of the post was updated after I learned the citation in the LACMA catalogue is a bit loose.)