Thursday, April 14, 2016

Caravaggio considered

Not sure that I would have put it in the attic,  but it surely would be hard to find the right spot in the house to hang the gruesome work that everyone's talking about.  I mean, look how big it is:

Perhaps in the guest's bedroom, when you really don't enjoy having guests stay over?

Anyhoo, as they say in the classics, I can't remember much about the artist, so went on a quick Google, only to find that the matter of whether he was gay or not has been a popular topic of debate since, well, since he was painting naked or semi naked youth of the male variety.  As an article at The Guardian notes:
A key figure in resurrecting Caravaggio from oblivion was the Italian art historian Roberto Longhi, whose university students included none other than the gay Marxist writer and filmmaker Pier Paolo Pasolini. The curly hair and lingering eyes of Caravaggio's painted youths haunt Pasolini's cinema – a beautiful angel in his film The Gospel According to Saint Matthew seems to have stepped straight out of a Caravaggio painting. His films helped to establish Caravaggio as a modern gay icon, a process completed in the 1980s by Derek Jarman's biopic Caravaggio and the Caravaggio-quoting photographs of Robert Mapplethorpe.

Recently there has been a backlash. The critic Andrew Graham-Dixon argues in his biography, Caravaggio: A Life Sacred and Profane, that no real evidence exists to prove Caravaggio was homosexual and that his apparently sensual paintings of young men are, in reality, religious allegories. For instance, Caravaggio's painting Boy with a Basket of Fruit, from which a youth looks at us woozily, his shirt artfully fallen to reveal a muscular shoulder, offering a luscious array of fruits for us to taste, is interpreted as an image of Christ's love whose apparent eroticism refers to the sacred love expressed by the Song of Solomon.
A lengthier article from 1998 goes into the debate in more academic detail, noting that these paintings are taken as evidence of his homoerotic interests:

(Actually, I'm no Robert Hughes, but is that even a good painting when it comes to the neck and shoulder area?  Doesn't seem quite right, that bone and musculature.  The fruit, on the other hand, yeah they look good.)

OK, apparently one critic takes this one as clinching the deal:

The title is Boy Bitten by a Lizard, and, I have to say, it's a pretty odd bit of art.  Apart from the bare shoulder (again), I get a bit of an unfortunate feminised Rowan Atkinson-ish vibe from that face.  The article I last linked to noted one Donald Posner wrote this:
In this painting, homosexuality is pointed to by the fact that the boy's "hands do not tense with masculine vigor in response to the attack; they remain limp in a languid show of helplessness. His facial expression suggests a womanish whimper rather than a virile shout."
Gee.  I might have just gone with the flower in the girl-ish hair.

What about his Love Conquers All, though, which modesty prevents me posting here?   Well, yes, through modern eyes, that would be one that I would think gave his inclinations away.  Yet Wikipedia urges caution:
Inevitably, much scholarly and non-scholarly ink has been spilled over the alleged eroticism of the painting. Yet the homoerotic content was perhaps not so apparent to Giustiniani’s generation as it has become today. Naked boys could be seen on any riverbank or seashore, and the eroticisation of children is very much a cultural artefact of the present-day rather than Caravaggio's. Certainly neither Giustiniani, who was not a homosexual, nor his visitors, appear to have been concerned by the question of modesty – or to have even raised it – and the story that the Marchese kept Amor hidden behind a curtain relates to his reported wish that it should be kept as a final pièce de résistance for visitors, to be seen only when the rest of the collection had been viewed – in other words, the curtain was to reveal the painting, not to hide it. (According to the historian Joachim von Sandrart, who catalogued the Giustiniani collection in the 1630s, the curtain was only installed at his urging at that time). The challenge is to see the Amor Vincit through 17th century eyes. 
Yes, I guess so.  But one has one's suspicions...


No comments: