Caravaggio’s Shadow in Bill Viola’s Heart

Enchanted by the deep shadows and brilliant light of Caravaggio’s timeless work, Bill Viola seeks to retain a similar aura in his own art.

Recently, Viola was asked to travel to Italy to put on an exhibit at the National Museum of Capodimonte in Naples, as part of a tribute to Caravaggio. There he presents six videos, five of which have never been released in Italy, which highlight the underlying and recurring themes of Viola’s work and reflect Caravaggio’s profound influence on Viola’s life and work. This exhibition is part of a larger project put on by the Museum of Capodimonte entitled Meetings with Caravaggio, which highlights Caravaggio’s influence on modern art and discuss modern interpretations of Caravaggio’s mythical status in the art world.

Viola, a major contemporary video artist, uses new technology
to create mesmerizing films. Using ultra-slow motion video, he invites the viewer to forget time and become absorbed into his work in order to see life with a different perspective.

With past exhibitions at the National Gallery in London, the Guggenheim Museum in New York and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, Viola is well-known throughout the contemporary art community. His work has received mixed reviews. Some critics have interpreted his work as transparent and overreaching, while others were impressed by his expressions of grand themes of human life—birth, death and consciousness—and his attempt to uncover meaning within them.

Viola confesses the influence that Classical artists Caravaggio, Michelangelo, Pontormo and Andrea di Bartolo have had on his work. He also emphasizes how they diverge in technology and mediums—both betraying the simplicity of the classical art and respecting it at the same time. Like Caravaggio, Viola is looking to preserve the realism in the representation of human life while marking the work with his distinctive, contemporary nuances.