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"Caravaggio. Masterpieces of the private Collection" November 20th 2006 - January 31th 2007 Ala Mazzoniana, Rome

Author: Stefano Abbadessa Mercanti
Multimedia: By cortesy of Uff. Stampa Novella Mirri

The exhibition, which will be open till January 31st at the Gate - Ala Mazzoniana della Stazione Termini of Rome, is centred on "The Calling of St Peter and St Anrew" attributed to Michelangelo Merisi, called Caravaggio. It comes from the Royal Gallery of Hampton Court. The exhibition presents four works of the master including two from private collections and another from the Galleria Palatina di Palazzo Pitti. The troubled episode of the so called "disappearance"of the picture is one of the elements chosen to promote this cultural event. Writes Maurizio Marini: "Besides the hypothesis of the original provenance of the art object in the present note, the arrival of the work in London in 1637 is certain attested by the acquisition of the King Charles I chez William Frizell: Caravaggio. Item the picture of the 3 disciples St John in a red blewish drapery and another in yellow coming from fishing half figures so as the life being the 12th piece of the number of 23 Italian Collection pieces which the King thought of Fresley in a large old wooden sarv'd frame (Size) 4ft 4in by 5ft 8in.". During the centuries we find different quotations on the picture and the artist but around the Twenties of the twentyth century a contribution of H. Voss defines this a copy of an unknown work of Caravaggio. A long and heated discussion on the attribution of the painting to the Lombard master went on throughout the last century. In 2004 Sir Denis Mahon, after an intensive job of restoration lasting more than 30 months which enabled experts to study the work (in the Rome exhibition there is a section dedicated to restoration and studies connected with it) proposes the attribution of the work to the great master. Naturally, in the world of art some share his opinion and some maintain that it is probable but not unproven, or not historically authenticated. Not even the document of acquistion of 1637 quoted above can be "certain", inasmuch as nothing is known about how this picture arrived in London. There will always be doubt but we can definitely feel surer today than in the past. The iconographic innovation of Caravaggio is one of the most extraordinary things about this picture. The choice to represent persons of the catholic universe as figures of uncertain morals makes of the artist in his age not only an extraordinary artist but also a propagator of evangelistic ideas showing love for down and outs.
His saintly evangelical Christian figures represent poor human beings, common and, at times, sinful. His choices were not simply "aesthetic"but conceptual. Naturally, they were often not tolerated in the papal Rome of that time. Very interesting are the different images of Christ where we can observe all this. Below are four different interpretations for comparison, one of the Incredulity of Thomas, one of the Dinner at Emmaus, one of the Arrest of Christ in the Garden, and finally one of the Calling of St Peter and St Andrew.

From these images we can easily realise the freedom of expression compared with traditional iconography. Returning to "The Calling of St Peter and St Andrew" Claudio Strinati and Vittorio Sgarbi note in the composition and the choice of figures a theme "almost alien to Caravaggio" in the depiction of the Apostles as powerful figures and Christ as "slight and timid"; According to them, " The picture of Hampton Court has in it an afflatus of love of truth that is also simplicity, immediacy and reflection, such as to fully justify reference to the works of Caravaggio in the highest moment of his reflection, leading to the absolute masterpiece, Works of Mercy at Naples. It is this utopian dimension, linked to the idea of "non place" in which images must be found, which is like an echo of the extreme Domenican theses of Campanella who in those days works, influenced by Thomas More, on the "City of the sun". The other three works in the Rome exhibition (The Dentist, St Giovannino at the fountain and the Sacrifice of Isaac) support and accompany an operation certainly of historical and artistic interest but not easy to understand for a wide public to which it is addressed. After the splendid exhibition in Naples which had the great merit of making understood, known and loved the works of one of the greatest paintings of all times, this one of Rome tries to transform a "discovery non discovery", more interesting for scholars of the subject, into a marketing operation. It is a success publicity-wise ,but disappointing for a non specialised visitor. To entitle an 'exhibition "Caravaggio, masterpieces in private collections", leads us to believe in a vaster and more representative exhibition. Visitors come out disconcerted and disappointed, though having seen four Caravaggios. It would be more effective and correct to exhibit only The Calling of St Peter and St Andrew, for the "first" exhibition of the painting after its restoration, «together with materials of study and research which re-inforce the theory of Sir Denis Mahon.

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Michelangelo Merisi, known as Caravaggio, was born in1571. His pseudonym derives from the name of the village Caravaggio, siutated near Milan and where Merisi spends his childhood MailingList - The world of art.
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