More news from the world of Caravaggio watchers. A Canadian art historian has argued that the 17th century master Caravaggio has become a more popular research topic than even Michelangelo.
Hard to believe, perhaps. But Philip Sohm, an art historian at the University of Toronto, bases his claims on studies of the number of writings (including books, catalogs and scholarly papers) produced on both great artists over the last 50 years, according to a recent story in the New York Times.
And Sohm has concluded that during that period, Caravaggio has gradually, if unevenly, overtaken Michelangelo.
(The photo above is Caravaggio's oil Judith Beheading Holofernes. c.1599. Palazzo Barberini, Rome)
To quote the New York Times piece: “The change, most obvious since the mid-1980s, doesn’t exactly mean Michelangelo has dropped down the memory hole. To judge from the throngs still jamming the Sistine Chapel and lining up outside the Accademia in Florence to check out “David,” his popularity hasn’t dwindled much.”
But, at least for scholars, the difference seems to come down to modern tastes.
Says the New York Times: “ Caravaggiomania, as (Sohm) calls it, implies not just that art history doctoral students may finally be struggling to think up anything fresh to say about Michelangelo. It suggests that the whole classical tradition in which Michelangelo was steeped is becoming ever more foreign and therefore seemingly less germane, even to many educated people.
“His otherworldly muscle men, casting the damned into hell or straining to emerge from thick blocks of veined marble, aspired to an abstract and bygone ideal of the sublime, grounded in Renaissance rhetoric, which, for postwar generations, now belongs with the poetry of Alexander Pope or plays by Corneille as admirable but culturally remote splendors.
“Caravaggio, on the other hand, exemplifies the modern antihero, a hyperrealist whose art is instantly accessible. His doe-eyed, tousle-haired boys with puffy lips and bubble buttocks look as if they’ve just tumbled out of bed, not descended from heaven. Coarse not godly, locked into dark, ambiguous spaces by a strict geometry then picked out of deep shadow by an oracular light, his models come straight off the street. Cupid is clearly a hired urchin on whom Caravaggio strapped a pair of fake wings. The angel in his “Annunciation” dangles like Chaplin’s tramp on the high wire in “The Circus,” from what must have been a rope contraption Caravaggio devised.”
Finally, notes the article: “The other afternoon, endless scrums of tourists (in Rome) jostled before the Caravaggios in the Church of San Luigi dei Francesi and the Basilica of Santa Maria del Popolo, feeding pocket change into the boxed light meters. It was probably just coincidental, but in the Church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva, nobody stopped to look at the Michelangelo.”