Wednesday, March 10, 2010

An Italian Antihero’s Time to Shine

I have long admired Caravaggio -- he's my favorite painter. I love the earnest reality of his works, their power and emotion and beauty. I love Michelangelo, too, but I understand how Caravaggio might speak with greater strength to this day and age.

Caravaggio, on the other hand, exemplifies the modern antihero, a hyperrealist whose art is instantly accessible. His doe-eyed, tousle-haired boys with puffy lips and bubble buttocks look as if they’ve just tumbled out of bed, not descended from heaven. Coarse not godly, locked into dark, ambiguous spaces by a strict geometry then picked out of deep shadow by an oracular light, his models come straight off the street. Cupid is clearly a hired urchin on whom Caravaggio strapped a pair of fake wings. The angel in his “Annunciation” dangles like Chaplin’s tramp on the high wire in “The Circus,” from what must have been a rope contraption Caravaggio devised.

Was Caravaggio gay? The idea meant nothing back in his day; there were acts, not identities, as James Saslow so masterfully relates in his book Ganymede in the Renaissance. But, since I agree with Harry Hay's notion that gays differ from straights in more than just the people we find attractive, I think Caravaggio's rebel status says more to his "identity" than any catalog of sex acts might reveal.

The painting above is Caravaggio's St. John the Baptist, which calls the Nelson Gallery in Kansas City home. I've seen this painting, and no picture can do justice to the brushwork and the colors you see in real life. Anyway, I like this article. It's stirring to think that Caravaggio died 400 years ago this very year.

An Italian Antihero’s Time to Shine (NY Times)


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