Exhibition News

Caravaggio on show this summer @ AGNSW and then the NGV

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Published Thursday, 27 November 2003

The Art Gallery of New South Wales and the National Gallery of Victoria have jointly organised the first exhibition in the Southern Hemisphere to explore the art of Caravaggio, his contemporaries and those who were influenced by his remarkable talent.

Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (1571-1610) arrived in Rome around 1592 to seek his fortune as a painter. In the 'eternal city' he emerged as the leader of a new artistic era, helping shape the 'baroque', instigating a revolution in style. In 1606 he fled to escape a murder charge and in July 1610 he died whilst returning to Rome in hope of a pardon. Caravaggio was a violent man in violent times.

In the late 1590s, Caravaggio's contemporary street-life genre scenes attracted passionate admirers in Rome. Between 1600 and 1606 he was successful in obtaining the most prestigious commissions in Catholic Rome, decorating churches with large-scale religious compositions. His brilliantly staged assemblies of figures confront the viewer - resplendent with blood spurts, grime, dirty fingernails and feet. Caravaggio's world emerged sharp-edged from the shadows, peopled with characters of an unnervingly ordinary humanity.

His unforgettable depictions of card-sharps, fortune-tellers and musicians were widely imitated by artists from regional Italian schools, as well as from France, Spain and the Netherlands. The models for his apostles, saints and other religious figures were plucked from the streets. Caravaggio's effects of darkness split by raking light provided a lesson in dramatic technique that excited artists from Rubens and Rembrandt to the present day.

The works in the exhibition illustrate central themes of Caravaggio's world: victims of time and death - decapitation, betrayal, brooding melancholy and silence. Or on a lighter note, victims of gullibility and human folly - sly exponents of the arts of deceit and trickery. Above all, they portray the pleasures and pains of love, sacred and profane.

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