Caravaggio: A Life Sacred and Profane

Andrew Graham-Dixon, Essay by
Andrew Graham-Dixon. Norton, $39.95 (544p) ISBN 978-0-393-08149-7
Reviewed on: 06/06/2011
Release date: 09/01/2011
Paperback - 514 pages - 978-0-393-34343-4
Paperback - 514 pages - 978-0-241-95464-5
Hardcover - 514 pages - 978-0-7139-9674-6
Open Ebook - 544 pages - 978-0-393-08293-7
Hardcover - 352 pages - 978-0-14-101099-1
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The life of Michelangelo Merisi, known as Caravaggio (1571–1610), writes British art critic Graham-Dixon in this masterful biography, was like his art: "a series of lightning flashes in the darkest of nights." Graham-Dixon's briskly and elegantly composed study thoroughly contextualizing the artist's early life in the town of Caravaggio and in Milan, a city dominated by Archbishop Carlo Borromeo, whose fearsome doctrine of mass repentance and the selective role of visual spectacle influenced Caravaggio. By the time the artist left Milan for Rome, he had decided to become an artist. The author then chronicles Caravaggio's artistic success in Rome, where, at the age of 24, he found patronage by Cardinal del Monte. He created many masterpieces there, but the rejection of The Death of the Virgin by its ecclesiastical commissioners, the author argues, may have prompted Caravaggio to commit murder. He fled to Naples, then to Malta; he died at age 38, after a troubled and "disordered" life. That Graham-Dixon (Michelangelo and the Sistine Chapel) took a decade to research and write this insightful and fascinating book shows in the depth of its research, the skillfulness of its historical and artistic analysis, and the deft fluidity with which it is expressed. This is a rare tour-de-force. 40 pages of color illus.; 4 maps. (Sept.)
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