M The Caravaggio Enigma

Review From User :

Peter Robb's followup to his masterful Midnight in Sicily is this controversial but amazing biography of Caravaggio, entitled M because the artist was actually known by many names over the span of his short life that all started with the letter "M". I found this book to be captivating cover to cover. Some critics have attacked Robb as not being a proper art critic and taking a bit of the spirituality out of M's work by naming works without the religious adornments (Matthew's calling rather than The Calling of St Matthew, for example), but this did not bother me in the least because Robb did make me see Caravaggio from a standpoint which was entirely new to me. I have seen many of Caravaggio's paintings in expositions and hanging in state and always appreciated his masterful chiaroscuro effects, but I had not picked up on the radical 3-dimensionality that M brought to 16/ 17th C painting nor the humanity he was imparting to the figures he was portraying. I found Robb's detailed descriptions of the major extant paintings all full of brilliant insight and the contextualizing of them into what is known of M's life through police reports and letters and so forth is enriching. I did regret not having more color plates to avoid having to run to Google for examining the works more closely, but perhaps it was a question of rights or budget for the printing, who knows. I don't feel it takes away from the core text or the fresh perspective on this incredibly revolutionary and influential painter.
It was also chilling to read about the Counter-Reformation and the suppression of freedom of speech and expression. Chilling reminder of tendencies that unfortunately are still real 400+ years later. Clement VIII and Pius V were very repressive popes and the Cardinals come off as hedonistic power hungry hypocrites. Crazy times. I had no idea of the vying for influence on the Papacy between the proFrench and proSpanish parties - very interesting especially in how it impacted Caravaggio despite his being totally apolitical.
I highly recommend this book for lovers of art and history and, of course, Caravaggio fans.


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