The Art of Getting it Wrong: Caravaggio

Obviously, being me, I couldn’t let pass the discovery of 100 ‘new Caravaggios’ without comment. (See an excellent summary of the story so far on Elliott in Gotham.)
The Higgs boson, and now this.
Truly, tempus mirabilis.

There are a host of reasons to admire Caravaggio; no need to list them: we all know what they are.
But what I love, really love, about him, is that, in some ways, he sucked.
Adriana Conconi Fedrigolli, one of the Milan researchers:

“…the work of the adolescent Merisi… is powerful, realistic, but still messy… Some errors were so deep-seated they reappear years later in more celebrated paintings..”

Criticisms of Caravaggio’s style and technique were rife from the off. From Bellori’s Lives of the Artists (1672):

“…They [the old painters] spread it about that,… poor in invention and design, lacking in decorum and art, he painted all his figures in one light and on one plane without gradations.”

Bellori, while recognising his ‘innovations’ and ‘influence’, agreed.
More recently, Hockney has cited (in Martin Gayford’s excellent A Bigger Message) Caravaggio’s ‘mistakes in drawing‘ (sic) as evidence for the artist’s use of the camera obscura, that being the reason for:

“…anatomical and spatial oddities: arms too far, too short or too long; crammed into a visual space that is simply too small to contain them…”

All of which is neither here nor there.
I challenge anyone to stand in front of a great Caravaggio and not be moved beyond measure. The last thing you’ll remark upon is the disegna, the draughtsmanship. The sum is always greater than the parts.

Great art, for me, does not exist in ‘perfection’; it exists on the cusp, in that fine no-man’s-land between hanging together and falling apart. It’s human, and thus infinitely humane.
Michelangelo will always trump Bernini, in my book.

So again, Caravaggio: not the greatest ‘painter’, but arguably the greatest artist.
Bellori:

“He repudiated every other precept and considered it the highest achievement in art not to be bound to the rules of art.”

That, my friends, is why.

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7 July: See the latest from Elliott here. The sceptics weigh in.

9 July: Is it all Utter Bollocks?