Beyond Caravaggio

I attended an extraordinarily good art lecture on Tuesday, May 16.  Lawrence, NY is about 45 minutes away and the time for the event was misposted, so we arrived before 11 AM and were told it was a mistake and to come back at 1 PM. Not likely!  Well, my friend Eleanor was intent of attending no matter what glitch occurred with the new woman in charge of communicating incorrectly, or some sort of astrological screw up with Mercury.  We were going to come back. The only reasonable solution was to walk around and kill the time in Lawrence .I didn’t realize it was like walking along  an prosperous street in a fantasy shtetl, with “my own kind. ” I’m not practicing, but there were Orthodox women with baby carriages, with hair covered in wigs and scarves, and the men wore yamakas and the long silky strings known as “tzet-zeet.” The strings were dangling below their belt-lines. The stores sold kosher items and there was a Judaica store and an NCJW thrift shop. In fact, I worked for the National Council of Jewish Women as National Office Director of Marketing Communications in the 1990s.  (I don’t  have fond memories of the backstabbing of  the incoming President, by the outgoing President of the organization, when I left.)  The thrift shop and the waffle shop were serendipitous. I never buy used clothing, but I needed a hat badly and found the perfect one in Navy. It was a Talbot hat and matched my outfit. That shop is the most upscale “thift shop” I have ever seen. There are treasures and the women who work there are all volunteers. The money goes to he programs the organization supports. It used to include educating and training Palestinian women, for example. I don’t know that the organization is currently supporting.

Not on Jenny Craig’s diet plan, but delicious decadence. Karen Kirshner at the “Waffelino” Waffle Bar in Lawrence, LI, NY

The meter was running and our time was up.  To the lecture we go!

The artist, Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio


















SUNY Farmingdale Art Professor, Thomas Germano’s presentation, “Beyond Caravaggio” at the Peninsula Public Library in Lawrence was comprehensive and a fascinating examination of the life and masterful works of Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, the original Baroque painter (1573-1610).

Caravaggio was a wanted man, after he murdered a guy over a gamble on a tennis match. He was on the run from 1606 to his death in 1610. He fled Rome and wandered with bounty hunters at his tail. He eventually was caught, cut up badly and tossed off a ship with many new works he was transporting back to Rome to urge a papal pardon. He never got there, dying of Malaria in Ercole, in his thirties. The master of the Baroque style was emulated and imitated later. Works have disappeared and cropped in in the past few years. One painting was discovered in an attic,   and another, “The Taking of Christ,” in Ireland.

His work was the first “Realism” and his were unique in that he used dramatic lighting and people emerged in the forefront with the background darkened or muted to focus on the central character, and his use of space was unique.

In fact, Rembrandt who was too young to know him was introduced to his work and was strongly influenced by his style. Many other Dutch painters copied Caravaggio’s style and there are numerous copies of the originals that are nearly indistinguishable.  We were shown two images of the same painting and asked which was the “real Caravaggio” No one chose it. We were all duped!

Caravaggio’s paintings of sensual, homo erotic young men, and realistic still life paintings of bountiful fruit were early works,  and especially popular with the clergy. His religious paintings included “The Lives of the Saints” and many more were with other religious themes, for church use.  He also painted Bacchus with damaged fruit, representing the forbidden nature of indulging in suggested decadences, and scenes of gypsies and card thieves preparing to fleece a wealthy unsuspecting victim, (like the three card monte crooks on the streets of New York City today). He often used himself and his fellow painter and roommate (Mario the Siciliano) as models. He used tools to enable realism with help, such a  fish-eye tool and others. His patron who worked as an agent for the Medicis, secured him many commissions. There are very few landscapes attributed to Caravaggio. He featured the figure front and foremost. He managed to communicate through the senses, including sound. You can hear the scream from the beheading or torture of victims in religious themed paintings.  Professor Germano pointed out that Caravaggio’s own Baroque  painting style coincided with the creation of opera.

The lecture was worth the wait. I feel like I took an intensive course, and it didn’t cost me anything.


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