Sometimes we think we have a pretty good grasp on an artist’s work from the “famous” works that repeat over and over in textbooks, scholarly literature, and general information. Then we spend some time in a place like Rome where their work is everywhere from the stairs you walk up, to the paintings they produced, to the domes they designed and you realized how little you knew and how bowled over you are by something you’ve never seen before. And then of course, there is where you saw it, and that it is right in front of your face instead of on a page or a screen. That’s the feeling we have had after the last few days of seeing these artists over and over again. Any major museum in the world would be lucky and quite prestigious to have one or two Caravaggio’s or maybe a Bernini, though I suspect most of his work has stayed in Italy. Borromini who is probably not familiar to most was mainly an architect and alternately a colleague of Bernini’s and a competitor. Always interesting to get the back story.
Lastly, there are those things that you so looked forward to seeing in real life and then were so disappointed that it looked better in the pictures than in real life. We had that experience as well though definitely not with Caravaggio. I can’t begin to explain how extraordinary this man’s work was and he died at such a young age. Most of the places we could not take photos inside so I’ll give you the links so you can see for yourself if you are so inclined:
In the case of the two paintings by Caravaggio in Sta. Maria del Popolo, their placement in the tiny chapel is unbelievably powerful. Both have foreshortened figures that look as if they will fall right into your arms. These are two of Caravaggio’s most famous works and to have them here in such a relatively small church is remarkable and they are perfectly situated to make a dramatic impact. On the other hand, the Bernini “St. Theresa” is in a shallow space that is so much smaller than it looks in photographs, is dingy, and poorly lit. Someone said the window above that is supposed to cast dramatic light down on the figures is covered in grime- why wouldn’t someone clean it off?