Monday, May 16, 2011

Borghese Caravaggios

Boy with Basket of Fruit

Self-Portrait as a Sick Bacchus

Madonna dei Palafrenieri

St. Jerome

David with the Head of Goliath

St. John the Baptist

All six of these Caravaggios share Room VIII at the Villa Borghese. Cardinal Scipione Borghese was one of the artist's most active patrons, and himself commissioned both the David and the St. Jerome. Two other paintings  Boy with Fruit and Bacchus – were confiscated from the studio of one of Caravaggio's early masters, in accordance with the orders of Pope Paul V (himself a Borghese). The Madonna dei Palafrenieri had been rejected (too informal and lacking in decorum) by the church it was painted for. St. John the Baptist was one of Caravaggio's last paintings, produced as a gift for the same Cardinal Borghese, in hopes of enlisting his help in obtaining a pardon from the Pope for a murder. Scholars think the pardon would have been granted – if Caravaggio had not died of fever on the journey home.

Room VIII was in fact the big disappointment at Villa Borghese. The upper galleries successfully combined natural and artificial light on the evening we were there. Everything glowed. But Room VIII, the Caravaggio Room, was down on the ground floor. There were drapes and shutters over the windows. And I immediately hated the lighting, too white and too hot, glaring off the varnish and washing out the pigments underneath.

Odd to think that of the twenty or so Caravaggios I saw in Rome, only the single large painting at the Vatican Pinacoteca, the Entombment (below) could be viewed in a really good light and from a wide range of distances and angles.