I have no memory of a time when art has not had a significant presence in my life. After taking both studio and art history courses here at St. Lawrence University, my level of appreciation for the arts has skyrocketed so you can only imagine my excitement when I discovered the opportunity to research one of my artistic inspirations, Caravaggio. Caravaggio was an artist who stuck out, he was a misfit, and he was a criminal. Not only did he innovate technical skill and revolt against the norm of the time, art historians are still debating what art movement he belongs in; is he Renaissance or Baroque? His messy life and innovative painting sparked my curiosity. I was able to travel to Milan, Florence, Venice, and Rome and follow the Caravaggio trail to see for myself the debates still surrounding his work.
Walking the streets of Florence and Rome gave me the feeling that things hadn’t changed for a very long time. Every corner I turned I stumbled upon another seemingly ancient church that carried me back in time. In Rome, I visited the Contarelli Chapel which housed three works by Caravaggio with the theme of Saint Matthieu. The difference between seeing his works in the context of this dingy chapel as opposed to a white washed museum wall was monumental. The contrast and emotion of the works was only magnified. Venice also seemed to be frozen in time. Navigation was impossible but again, every corner held something new. Milan was the exception in that is has become a modern center of living and finance but there were areas that were reminiscent of the old Italy still carrying on. Each city was so different and yet, there was a feel to the cities that was consistent.
While exploring the streets that Caravaggio once walked, I also did a lot of sketching. By sketching out his paintings I could focus on certain elements of the paintings that make them different from other painters of the time. His style eventually led to the Baroque style of painting, an incredible innovation. His subject matter, use of tenebrism, and use of elements generally forbidden at the time, were all things I could pinpoint when sketching. The atmosphere I experienced while walking the cities also helped me understand the context in which he was painting as these Italian cities are so much different than our own.
Thanks to Ms. Francine Stone, I was able to see these paintings for myself and investigate the debates sparked over whether Caravaggio is Baroque or Renaissance and the aspects of his paintings that make him so respected. Seeing these works in the flesh and in the context of Italy was a privilege that I will never forget.