Thursday, December 14, 2006

Caravaggio at the Frick

The Crucifixion of Saint Andre (detail) after Caravaggio, ball point pen on Moleskine Sketchbook
I had planned on visiting the Frick last Friday to study Rembrandt's The Polish Rider, a work I'm reading about on its authenticity. After looking at the painting in a gallery with horrible light which does not let you see it correctly, I walked into the next gallery, where an exhibit, Masterpieces of European Painting from The Cleveland Museum of Art, was on view. I was excited to see this very small show of thirteen paintings and was elated to find a Caravaggio hanging in all its glory.
The Crucifixion of Saint Andrew (detail) after Caravaggio, ball point pen on Moleskine Sketchbook

I have been a follower of Caravaggio for many years, and to see The Crucifixion of Saint Andrew was an amazing experience. Most of the work I have seen by Caravaggio is from his early years, a period when his surfaces were smooth and the linen used as support was made up of a fine weave. I have seen this specific painting in books, recently I encountered it on a catalog that accompanied a show in London called, Caravaggio: The Final Years. It is one thing to look at art on printed paper, but the experience of looking at the real thing is incomparable. The first thing I noticed as I walked in to the gallery was the size. It's a massive painting, dwarfing the surrounding works, and as I got closer the lights shining down on it revealed a heavy linen weave. This I was not expecting, a Caravaggio with the surface of a Titian. I stood there taking it all in, the majestic bold use of color, the paint application, the power of the image; I couldn't get enough. I kept walking back and forth studying the painting, and before I knew it my Moleskine and pen were at hand and work began as passers by looked over my shoulder and at the painting. I didn't care much about them, I was having a moment.

The Crucifixion of Saint Andrew (detail) after Caravaggio, ball point pen on Moleskine Sketchbook

Caravaggio has chosen to depict a very specific moment in the story of Saint Andrew. It may appear to be the moment of his crucifixion, as the title suggests, but according to historians this is not the case. Caravaggio is showing us the moment when Saint Andrew is about to get taken down from the cross.

"The Proconsul of Patra, upset at his wife having been baptised by Saint Andrew,
ordered that the apostle should be bound to a cross. For two days Saint Andrew
continued to preach from the cross to the gathered crowds, who pressed the
proconsul to have him taken down. Remarkably, the attempted rescue of the
apostle was thwarted when the soldiers who tried to untie him found their arms
paralysed, for the saint had prayed to be allowed to die on the cross; he was
surrounded by a dazzling light before expiring.[1]

Caravaggio, The Crucifixion of Saint Andrew, 1606-7, oil on canvas, 202.5 x 152.7 cm, The Cleveland Museum of Art, Leonard C. Hanna, Jr., Fund

[1] Cassani, Silvia; Sapio, Maria. Ed. Caravaggio: The Final Years. Electa Napoli, Italy 2005

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