Three days on Gozo have made me ready for a date with no one else but Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (1571 – 1610). Tomorrow, if everything goes according to the plan, I will with my own eyes behold his ‘Beheading of St John the Baptist’, which he painted while settled on Malta.
To Malta he escaped from Rome in July 1607 after killing a man called Ranuccio Tomassoni during a duel, which was one of his many brawls. A year later he was accepted as a Knight of Obedience by the Order of St John of Jerusalem, because they needed a court painter.
In total he made five paintings on Malta:
1) ‘Beheading of St John the Baptist’,
2) ‘St Jerome writing’.
Both paintings are preserved at the St John’s Cathedral in Valetta.
3) ‘Sleeping Cupid’ and
4) ‘Portrait of a Knight of Malta’ (Fra Antonio Martelli). The paintings are today exhibited in The Pitti, Florence.
5) ‘Portrait of Grand Master Alof de Wignacourt with a Page’ is displayed in the Louvre, Paris.
However, 1 December 1608 he was expelled from the Order due to his numerous fracases.
Nevertheless, Caravaggio was not only an artist of rare talent but he also was an innovator, who changed the look of European painting. It was an crucial scientific discover made by David Hockney after a closer study on the optics implicit in the art.
According to Hockney Caravaggio’s images look ‘at once coldly precise, voluptuously real and strangely oneiric’, what certainty appeared to be alien to the geometrical perspectives of renaissance art.
While being in Rome from 1595, Caravaggio became a part of an intensely scientific movement curated by Galileo, who was then developing the telescope. The work was based on one of the few copies of Leonardo da Vinci’s still-unpublished writings on art and science and also Della Porta’s book on natural magic, which described clearly and vividly how the camera obscura worked. The book had begun circulating widely in a new edition just before Caravaggio arrived in Rome.
Thus, the new technique used by Caravaggio consisted of image projection by means of mirrors, where he used a concave mirror together with a strong light source – we call it a projector in the modern society. Later, while on the run the painter had to abandon the technique altogether. The latter had to be kept secret because science and magic at those times could easily run foul of the Inquisition. For his unique works of art Caravaggio got a title the “antichrist of painting”.
What strikes me is that the technique might have had a huge impact on the textile industry as such with all its techniques of pattern transferring. It was a huge dash forward which inevitably changed the direction for development of science, art and fashion altogether.
Believe it or not but many famous artists have applied the technique of projecting on their art works. However, it is a severely private matter, compared to an adultery…