Scottish National Gallery
Chiaroscuro: I have always wanted to use this word, an Italian term meaning light-dark, in any writing and finally, here it in this review with thanks to Michelangolo Merisi da Caravaggio, remarkable renaissance painter of reportedly difficult temperament, although fervently respected by his patrons, and desirable fantasy dinner party guest of mine.
On a mild Autumn day in Milan, I wandered into the Pinacoteca di Brera, not the gallery as planned, but the Brera Academy, by mistake. Surrounded by students of painting and sculpture, the atmosphere throughout the palazzo was charged and electric, flooded with creativity. Perhaps this modern day vibrancy and furore reflected that surrounding artists at the turn of the seventeenth century, I mused. Finally locating the gallery, Caravaggio’s, ‘Supper at Emmaus,’ seemed subdued in comparison, a strained Christ and serious but compassionate expressions, the painting appeared to me to be darkly keening. Latterly, I became aware that Caravaggio had a murder charge pending against him at the time of this work.
Deeply intrigued to see more, I visited, ‘Beyond Caravaggio,’ at the National Gallery in Edinburgh this Summer. I knew that there would be an earlier painting of the Supper at Emmaus, by the artist himself, in the exhibition. Five years earlier, in 1601, exhilarating and extravagant storytelling infused this piece. Although edged with darkness, I was captivated by the light on the faces of each figure, particularly Christ’s, the fruit which almost tipped off the table and onto the parquet floor in the gallery, the space at the table where I would have loved to sit, the sheer arresting drama of it all. Once able to take my eyes off the painting, I turned to see, ‘The Taking of Christ,’ beautifully hung on the opposite wall, the distance from each work only serving to further illuminate the expressions of betrayal, anguish and inevitability. Chiaroscuro: I have always wanted to experience this word and I had.
There was only one other piece by Caravaggio in this exhibition, the exquisitely impish, ‘Boy Bitten by a Lizard.’ There were works by other renaissance artists from the school of this master at that time but, for me, their paintings merely served to highlight his brilliance.
Shortly afterwards, in the Gemaldergalerie in Berlin, I met with Caravaggio’s, ‘Victorious Cupid,’ and, well, that’s another story.