This was one of those times where I just assumed that I would have an enjoyable experience because of the subject involved. I mean, an exhibition about Caravaggio, how could that be bad?? Sadly I found it disappointing.
For those of you who have never heard of Caravaggio, he was a beast of a man. Not a lot is recorded about him, possibly because he shot to fame and then died so young but what he managed to create in his short life was impeccable. Like the old phrase goes, it takes one to know one and I feel that is why Caravaggio was able to capture the expressions of people beautifully. One such example are the faces on all the people in 'The taking of Christ', one of the few actual Caravaggio paintings on display in this exhibition.
The taking of Christ depicts the moment when Judas kisses Jesus. How evil must Judas have been to use an embrace and a kiss as a signal to identify the man to whom torture and death would be imminent? Caravaggio knew what Judas was feeling as he himself wasn't a stranger to underhandedness. Having broken the law on many occasions, Caravaggio died from a fever while on the run for murder. He was able to paint exactly what Judas was feeling and when you look at his face you will see a look of guilt combined with a lack of selfish care for his consequences. Moving your gaze to the right, you can see the man waiting to see who Judas has identified, he has an expectant look. A great scene you really need to see to appreciate.
This is what Caravaggio did best, with the use of chiaroscuro he depicted the true gruesomeness of biblical stories. Another example is where Salome receives the head of John the Baptist. I mean, who would ask for someone's head on a plate? Well, she got it! This picture is great at sending the message of be careful what you wish for as Salome can barely look at it, she looks defiant yet her soul is clearly ashamed, you can see it in her eyes.
If you've read this far you're maybe thinking, hmm the exhibition sounds alright! What it does do is make Caravaggio's paintings look even more spectacular by showing them alongside terrible copycats whom he influenced. Expect around 15% Caravaggio paintings to 85% followers.
As well as characterising people's expressions impeccably, Caravaggio did something else very cleverly. His compositions were set up so that the viewer feels part of the scene. In 'The Supper at Emmaus' it's almost as if you are there too, having dinner with Jesus. You just want to push the basket of food back onto the table a wee bit before it falls off!
Anyway, that's all I'm going to say on this exhibition, there wasn't anything notable from the other artists on display. The Beyond Caravaggio exhibition will be on in the National Gallery of Ireland in Dublin from the 11th February until the 14th May if you happen to be down that way but I wouldn't go just to see the Caravaggio's as there's not many of his actual paintings on display.