Saturday, September 25, 2010

A Caravaggio Experience in Rome, April 27-29, 2011

Last April I led what I called a Caravaggio Pilgrimage in Rome, specifically to see the blockbuster Caravaggio exhibition at the Scuderie. Although that magnificent show is now just a fond memory, Rome remains the city with the largest concentration of Caravaggio paintings anywhere in the world, by far.

The Eternal City continues to invite glorious total immersion for Caravaggio fans, and I'm planning a three-day Caravaggio Experience in Rome, April 27-29, 2011 for exactly that purpose!

Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio arrived in Rome in the last decade of the 16th century, brimming with ambition. As it turned out, his youthful confidence was well founded, and his brilliant new painting style shook the art establishment to its roots.

Until his volatile temperament got the better of him, causing him to flee the city in 1606, there was constant demand for his work in Rome -- for easel paintings commissioned by private collectors as well as large canvases to decorate chapels in various churches.

As a result of that decade of patronage, Rome today is a Caravaggio-rich city. Twenty of his paintings are still on view, spotted around Rome -- many in the very chapels and palazzi for which they were originally painted more than 400 years ago. The city's collection spans his entire career, including two of his first known paintings and his last.

During the Caravaggio Experience in Rome our small group (not more than 6 participants) will explore Caravaggio’s Roman canvases, visiting nine sites -- four churches and five museum galleries -- in the historic center of the city. By the end of our three days together, we will have spent time with all 20 of the Caravaggio paintings that are to be seen in Rome.

To fully appreciate Caravaggio's work, an understanding of the world he lived in -- and the way he lived in it -- is essential. Therefore, on Day 1, before heading out on our site visits, we will discuss the social, political, religious and artistic realities of his day. I'm a great believer in context, and I've designed this SmArt Talk expressly to provide the background to enhance participants' appreciation of what we’ll see on our site visits.

1600 was a significant moment in time and Caravaggio was definitely a man of the moment. His importance in the history of art will be the unifying thread throughout our thee-day program.

Prints and pictures in books are better than nothing, but in truth, they are a feeble substitute for seeing the actual paintings. To one degree or another, the true colors and surface textures are lost in reproduction. And how surprising it can be to see the actual size of a painting, when we've become so familiar with the image in books or online.

I can talk about the tears in the Lute Player's eyes, the work-worn hands, the healthy glow of the infant's cheek, or the powdery bloom on the grapes in the still life, but one can only fully experience Caravaggio's astonishing naturalism and the stunning power of his compositions when standing before the actual paintings.
I'm already excited, just thinking about revisiting Caravaggio in his adopted city with a small group of like-minded people.

For more information about the Caravaggio Experience in Rome program, please contact me at

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Virgin Eleousa

The Cleveland Museum of Art has recently acquired its first Byzantine icon: the Icon of the Mother of God and Infant Christ. It was painted in Crete, c. 1425-50, in tempera and gold on cypress-wood panel; 96 x 70 cm.

This type of icon is known as a Virgin Eleousa or Virgin of Tenderness, characterized by the touching cheeks of Mother and Child, in a composition that combines spiritual majesty with human sympathy. The icon signifies the Christian doctrine of the Incarnation: Christ born of human flesh and destined to die for the sake of humankind. The gaze of Mary, who cradles the Christ child, is filled with a sense of pathos, born of the knowledge of Christ’s future sacrifice.

Of course, for anyone who doesn’t subscribe to the Christian doctrine of the Incarnation, the image can be appreciated as a representation of the human bond between mother and child, and the universal ideal of tender, protective motherly love.

This particular icon is rare in that it can be attributed to a specific icon painter, Angelos Akotantos (died c. 1450), who signed as many as 30 icons and to whom an additional 20 are reliably attributed. Active in the early-to-mid 15th century, Akotantos had a workshop in Candia, the capital of Crete. From here he supplied icons to Greek churches and monasteries on Crete, Patmos, Rhodes and elsewhere.

The large size of this icon may suggest its original placement on a templon in an Orthodox church. A templon (from Greek meaning "temple”) is a feature of Byzantine churches, similar to an alter rail or rood screen; a barrier separating the laity in the nave from the priests preparing the sacraments at the altar. The templon first appeared in Christian churches around the fifth century AD and eventually evolved into the modern iconostasis, (a wall of icons and religious paintings) still found in Orthodox churches today.

Icons of this importance rarely appear on the market, and this painting stands out as one of the most significant icons to enter an American museum collection in recent years.