As Catherine Puglisi points out in the most beautiful Caravaggio book ever, the soulful, tormented, ethereally talented painter has become a pop icon, with a "full-blown industry of Caravaggio publications." Puglisi's book is a standout in this crowded field. With remarkable evenhandedness, she sifted through the scholarship and discoveries--and the trash--of the past 20 years and wrote a Caravaggio book that does justice to the painter's glorious work. She doesn't skimp on the juicy parts of his life, however: she candidly but coolly recounts and appraises the bits of historical evidence for his sexuality (both hetero and homo), his use of whores and ruffians as models, and his many scrapes with the law. All the while, she focuses the reader on the paintings, aptly describing such naturalistic, groundbreaking works as The Calling of St. Matthew, of 1599.
Gazing at the large, double-page color plates in Puglisi's book, it is easy to feel the erotic pull of the many early canvasses of supple youths that have been so widely reproduced in recent years. But the later religious pictures, in which the models for the saints and Madonnas still seem almost palpable in their reality, have the most dramatic magnetism. Rest on the Flight into Egypt is particularly moving. It may never be possible to unravel the tangled web of Caravaggio's life, but Puglisi manages to restore a welcome balance to our view of his art.
(John T. Spike
For the first time nearly every extant work by Caravaggio is reproduced in color in this lavish new volume, the long-awaited result of more than 20 years of research by a leading authority on the artist.
In an engaging and informed text, John T. Spike explores in detail Caravaggio's scandalous life and provocative work. Placing Caravaggio within the broad panorama of society and ideas at the turn of the 17th century, the author sets a richly detailed stage for an artist who has been called "the first modern painter." Caravaggio (1571-1610) reflected in his canvases his own desires and spiritual crises to an extent no one ever had imagined possible, and he shocked his contemporaries by portraying the saints and virgins of Christianity with the faces and bodies of his companions and lovers in Rome's demimonde.
Accompanying the book is a critical catalog on CD-ROM in which all of Caravaggio's extant paintings, as well as lost and rejected works, are thoroughly described. Each entry specifies the work's medium, dimensions, location, and provenance, and provides an annotated bibliography of sources. Most of the entries conclude with a brief technical analysis. Much of this scientific data, of prime importance for attribution and dating, has not previously been published.
With its fresh insights, as well as judicious readings of the documents and the physical evidence of the paintings themselves, Caravaggio is the most thorough study on the artist to date, and it will no doubt remain a definitive monograph for many years to come.
As presented with "blood and bone and sinew" (Times Literary Supplement) by Peter Robb, Caravaggio's wild and tempestuous life was a provocation to a culture in a state of siege. The end of the sixteenth century was marked by the Inquisition and Counter-Reformation, a background of ideological cold war against which, despite all odds and at great cost to their creators, brilliant feats of art and science were achieved. No artist captured the dark, violent spirit of the time better than Caravaggio, variously known as Marisi, Moriggia, Merigi, and sometimes, simply M. As art critic Robert Hughes has said, "There was art before him and art after him, and they were not the same."
Caravaggio threw out Renaissance dogma to paint with dazzling originality and fierce vitality, qualities that are echoed in Robb's prose. As with Caravaggio's art, M arrests and suspends time to reveal what the author calls "the theater of the partly seen." Caravaggio's wild persona leaps through these pages like quicksilver; in Robb's skilled hands, he is an immensely attractive character with an astonishing connection to the glories and brutalities of life.