Caravaggio: A Life Sacred and Profane by Andrew Graham-Dixon | Book review | Books | The GuardianThe region of Emilia-Romagna in northern Italy had been suffering incessant earth tremors for several days from 20th May onwards. In one of these, on 28th May, the parish church of San Felice sul Panaro was partly ruined but a triptych of The coronation of the Virgin with Sts Felice and Gimignano by Bernardino Loschi, housed for centuries in the church, was saved. On the following day, an earthquake of even greater magnitude completely destroyed the church, reducing to rubble the wall of the apse that had protected the triptych. Since then the painting has become a symbol of hope that the artistic heritage of the region can be resurrected after the terrible destruction wrought by the earthquakes. Passing through an initial, somewhat documentary room, the visitor to Edvard Munch: The Modern Eye at Tate Modern, London to 14th October ,1 enters a long second gallery to be riveted by Girls on the bridge ; cat. Familiar, yet realer than remembered, its impact at that range is spectacular.
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Caravaggio: A Life Sacred and Profane by Andrew Graham-Dixon
Italian Renaissance painters tend to go in and out of fashion. Caravaggio was forgotten after his death, in , only to be rediscovered in the 20th century. Today his reputation seems to be at its zenith. Possibly this is because we respond to his preference for painting his subjects with all their natural flaws. Maybe it is because his famously dramatic chiaroscuro technique has an almost film noir quality. Or perhaps it is because we live in an age with a taste for sensation.
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Andrew Graham-Dixon has written a number of books about art and artists. His earliest book, Howard Hodgkin , was the first monograph on one of the leading painters of today. It was followed by A History of British Art , Paper Museum , an anthology of articles published in the Independent, a book about the Renaissance and In the Picture , an anthology of articles published between and in the Sunday Telegraph.
O ne of the primary weapons in 16th-century Catholicism's war against sin was the practice of visualisation, in which the faithful were exhorted to imagine themselves as literal, here-and-now witnesses to the sufferings of Christ. The more flesh-and-blood the imaginings, the better. What he doesn't mention are the curious parallels between this particular brand of salvation-through-imagination and his own work as a popular art historian. If you can't make it to Rome, Naples, Valletta or Messina to see the incomparable originals in situ — runs the unspoken subtext — then this book is here to help you visualise them. Just as on television, your friendly expert will not only tell you what the paintings mean, but his impassioned commentary will also make you feel as though you are there, in the presence of the original. Done well, this is no mean feat.