Dark Caravaggism

Caravaggio’s istoria Mode in the Resurrection of Lazarus, Burial of St. Lucy, and Death of the Virgin

In: Explorations in Renaissance Culture
Letha Ch’ien Sonoma State University Art History USA Rohnert Park, CA

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Many of Caravaggio’s late istoria altarpieces differ from what is commonly called Caravaggism (the artist’s pictorial mode during his Roman period) strongly enough that together the paintings form a distinctive approach to istoria that requires its own term: Dark Caravaggism. This paper identifies and analyzes this second Caravaggism, a pictorial mode as innovative as the first, but one that has been neglected in the literature. In the Resurrection of Lazarus, Burial of St. Lucy, and other works including the Death of the Virgin and Beheading of St. John, Caravaggio extends narrative moments in even muted palettes, stilled movement, and cavernous spaces. These paintings command the viewer’s attention by employing the eye’s physiological process of dark adaption in which the eye adjusts over time to dim light conditions. Eschewing Early Caravaggism’s instantaneity and fragmented tenebrism, Dark Caravaggism asks the viewer for quiet meditation rather than frantic search. If not for the artist’s untimely death at age 38, late Caravaggism likely would have produced a second revolution in European painting on par with the first.

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