Quotes on Caravaggio

compiled by Laura GIACALONE

“What begins in the work of Caravaggio is, quite simply, modern painting.” André Berne-Joffroy

“Known as the symbol of genius and insanity, Caravaggio is the most visceral, impetuous, and genial character I have been asked to interpret. He was the real innovator of painting in the 17th century, not only in Italy, but in the whole world. He was not an intellectual innovator, but an innovator of life. He is still so modern because he has never respected the mannerism of the dogmas imposed by the Church. He broke all rules risking his own life. That was a time when people like Giordano Bruno were burnt alive. And yet he pursued his idea of painting, anticipating things that would be deeply understood only many years later. Against all conventional rules, he used prostitutes as models for his Madonnas, he painted peasants praying the Holy Mary with their dirty nails and grease hair, so that, for
the very first time, people could recognize themselves in what they saw. It wasa new way of conceiving painting. This is Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio for me.” Alessio Boni, in the role of Caravaggio in the Rai TV Film directed by Angelo Longoni (2007)

“Caravaggio [is] the first artist in history whose paintings seem directly concerned with his own life. Ten years before Shakespeare invented Hamlet, Caravaggio painted Saint Francis in solitary dialogue with a skull. Caravaggio introduced soliloquy into painting at the same time that Shakespeare perfected it in drama.” John T. Spike, Caravaggio

“There was art before him and after him, and they were not the same.” Robert Hughes, art critic of Time magazine

“Caravaggio’s rich color palette and subtle contrast of light and dark inspired my latest collection of bags for men. There’s a return of old value. You see all these young gentlemen about. It’s a new classicism. Caravaggio is relevant today because he was conflicted but extremely brave in his choices. I wanted to create a feeling of timelessness, which
only great works of art can convey.” Handbag designer Silvia Venturini Fendi

If Caravaggio were alive today today, he would have loved the cinema; his paintings take a cinematic approach. We filmmakers became aware of his work in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and he certainly was an influence on us. […] The best part for us was that in many cases he painted religious subject-matter but the models were obviously people from the streets; he had prostitutes playing saints. There’s something in Caravaggio that shows a real street knowledge of the sinner; his sacred paintings are profane.” Director Martin Scorsese from an interview on the Royal Academy Magazine, 2005

“His realism was part of his self-presentation as an outsider and a rebel, a persona doubtlessly as satisfying to himself as it was calculated to impress or unsettle others.” John Varriano, The Art of Realism

“The intensely personal eroticism of M’s paintings, combined with the increasingly dark
strain of violence and suffering that also runs through them, is what makes his art so immediately gripping”. Peter Robb, M.: The Man Who Became Caravaggio

“It could be said that without Caravaggio’s innovations film noir would not have come to exist. So who exactly was this convention-busting painter with a reach that has spanned four centuries?” Francine Prose, Painter of Miracles

“Never before had an artist presented religious drama as contemporary life… Nor had any earlier painter dared to break so dramatically with long established studio traditions, painting his figures from nature, directly onto the canvas, with complex effects of studio lighting. It was the figures having been painted from life that most fascinated Caravaggio’s contemporaries.” Helen Langdon, Caravaggio: A Life

“He was the first painter of life as experienced by the popolaccio, the people of the back streets, les sans-culottes, the lumpenproletariat, the lower orders… Following Caravaggio up to the present day, other painters – Brower, Ostade, Hogarth, Goya, Gericault, Guttuso – have painted pictures of the same social milieu. But all of them – however great – were genre pictures, painted in order to show others how the less fortunate or the more dangerous lived. With Caravaggio, however, it was not a question of presenting scenes but of seeing itself. He does not depict the underworld for others: his vision is one that he shares with it.”John Berger, Studio International Jan/Feb 1983

“Caravaggio’s revolution was to treat biblical and mythological subjects with realism. He completely eschews idealization. That runs completely counter to the tradition of his day. He is also a very great storyteller. He’s brilliant at digesting the stories and picking the moment that encapsulates the story”. Dawson Carr, curator of Caravaggio Retrospective at the National Gallery, London

“His deviant sexuality, apparent atheism, and social transgressions fit the romantic image of the rebel artist epitomized in Paul Verlaine’s Les poètes maudits of 1884, just as his work seemed to foreshadow that of Delacroix, Courbet, and Manet”. Genevieve Warwick, Caravaggio: Realism, Rebellion, Reception

Laura Giacalone is the Associate Editor of the Italian Journal.