Friday, April 8, 2011


It's been a terrifically productive couple of days.  I've probably walked 20 miles, zigzagging the city, tracking down Caravaggio's old addresses, favorite taverns, and the alley where he murdered Ranuccio Tomassoni after a game of pallacorda, which is an early form of tennis.

There's a remarkable thing happening in Rome regarding Caravaggio.  Though famous during his lifetime, he was largely forgotten or ignored for a few centuries after his death, which is often the case with geniuses. His resurgence in popularity is dizzying. Italians seem to have decided that he's their most valuable tourist attraction, their best export. Why is he so attractive to our modern sensibility? I guess that's what I'll explore with this novel. There's something dangerous and sexy and tragic and familiar about his life and his art. Suddenly 400 years after he died, we can't get enough of him.

This year, the 400th anniversary of his death, has brought many new exhibitions, some of them great, some of them not. I was in Rome a year and a half ago.  Caravaggio was popular then, but nothing like now. Yesterday morning I saw three of his works at the Galleria Doria Pamphilj, then as I walked north on Via del Corso to locate the apartment of the courtesan he loved, Fillide Melandroni, I passed this piece of street art, a sidewalk re-creation of his "Sick Bacchus," which is an eary self-portrait. After it you'll see Caravaggio's original.

Not bad, right?  I used to teach middle school, and I could barely write my name with chalk.  But the remarkable thing is that this painting is recognizable enough to passers-by that it makes financial sense for the street artist to choose it, rather than something like Michelangelo's Creation of Adam. Caravaggio's images have entered the public consciousness at a new level.

Finally, here's a photograph of Castel and Ponte Sant'Angelo.  It was on this bridge on September 11, 1599, that Caravaggio, along with all of Rome, watched the beheading of Beatrice Cenci.  But first, yesterday I saw this portrait of Beatrice by Guido Reni, which supposedly he painted in her jail cell just before the execution.

All right, here are the Sant'Angelo and Tiber at dusk.

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