Caravaggio: His life and style in three paintings | National Gallery

Caravaggio: His life and style in three paintings | National Gallery

Hello, my name is Letizia Treves, and I’m the curator of the later Italian
and Spanish pictures, here at the National Gallery. And, by popular demand, today I’m going
to talk to you about Caravaggio And Caravaggio’s an artist who’s as well known for his art,
as he is for his bad behaviour. And the purpose of today’s talk
is really to talk you through his life, so it is a lot about the biography
of the artist, but I’m going to use the pictures
that we have here to illustrate why he was so famous then,
and so innovative in his style. And the National Gallery
is extremely lucky to have three major works by Caravaggio. One from each of the distinct phases
of his career, so it’s the, sort of, perfect place
to give you this talk, if you like. So, Caravaggio was born in Milan
in 1571. His name is Michelangelo Merisi, but he is known as Caravaggio after
the small town to the east of Milan, from which his parents came, and where he spent quite a few years
during his childhood, as well. His father was a mason, a muratore, and he died when Caravaggio
was just six years old. And there’s been speculation
as to whether Caravaggio was, sort of, launched in that career
before he became a painter but there’s really no evidence for that. What we do know is that when he was 13,
he was sent to Milan, and he signed a four-year apprenticeship
with an artist called Simone Peterzano an artist from Bergamo, who’d worked in Venice, and who sort of
styled himself as Titian’s pupil And he works with him for four years, and we have a contract,
but we don’t have much else. But one can imagine that in the workshop he learnt the rudiments of drawing,
he learnt how to grind colours, how to prepare canvases. He may have learnt
how to paint in fresco, although he is not a fresco painter,
later on in his career. And after these four years with
Peterzano, there’s a sort of mystery. We don’t really know
what happened to him until 1592, and that is when he goes to Rome,
almost certainly in 1592, around the age of 20. And this is the problem with Caravaggio –
there’s very little documentary evidence Of course, it’s been scrutinised
and read in many, many different ways, and it’s very fragmentary, and so we’ve tried to reconstruct
his life on the basis of the documents, but, really, we rely enormously
on the biographers, who wrote about him, which, of course, do provide
conflicting information sometimes and often have
their own slant on Caravaggio. So even that has to be sort o
taken with a pinch of salt. But Caravaggio arrives in Rome,
he’s about 20, and, of course, now we know
he became a very famous artist. But when he arrived he was a nobody. He arrived and he really
was desperate, destitute. He jumped from one workshop to another.
He painted hackwork. We know he produced these, sort of,
heads. Three heads a day for no money. He lived with someone
called Pandolfo Pucci, who he nicknamed Monsignor Insalata,
Mr Salad, because, apparently,
that’s all he ate under his roof. He was given very meagre food. But the biographers do agree
on certain points of these early years. It seems that he arrived, and somehow worked in the workshop of
a Sicilian painter called Lorenzo Carli. We know nothing about him, really. And no paintings
can be attributed to him from this time. And then he worked in
two other workshops, Antiveduto Gramatica
and Cavalier d’Arpino. And what we know
about these two experiences is that for Antiveduto he painted heads, and for d’Arpino
he painted flowers and fruit. And this is important
because these two formative experiences really help in understanding the early
group of works that Caravaggio produced. And we know from the biographers, that having, sort of, jumped
from one workshop to another, he then decided to launch himself
as an independent artist, but really struggled. I mean, he was, as I said, destitute. He was painting pictures
for the open market. I mean, artists at this time either
worked within a workshop framework, or they were patronized
by a wealthy patron, who would sometimes house them
in their palazzo, and would protect them, as well. Of course, Caravaggio had neither of those
two things at this at this point in his career. So, he produces works
for the open market, and manages to catch the eye
of influential patrons that way. And we know that one of these pictures
that he produced was the ‘Boy bitten by a Lizard’, which
we have here in the National Gallery. There’s another version of this picture
in the Fondazione Longhi which is generally attributed
to Caravaggio, but is not unanimously accepted. And, as you can see, remember what
I said before about his formative years. So, here there’s the combination
of a beautiful still life, with these, sort of,
half-length figures, and you can see
how those formative experiences might have led to this kind of picture. But this is a very original and novel
kind of picture for its subject matter, and that’s almost certainly what attracted
the attention of these patrons in Rome. It’s a, sort of,
genre subject that, of course, one might have seen in northern Italy,
and even in northern Europe, but really was very new to Rome. And this picture has been read
in many different ways. It’s been read in,
sort of, a poetic vein, looking at literature and poetry
of the time. It’s been read as an allegory,
an allegory of the sense of touch. It’s also been read as an allegory of
the sort of pains that hide behind beauty, the pains of love, the lizard hidden
amongst the sensuous fruit, you know. But, actually, I think
the most convincing reading is perhaps the most straightforward, which is just really
it’s a study in expression. This, kind of, moment of surprise,
of unexpected pain, and he’s, sort of, shrinking away. But it’s a fascinating picture. Before he was bitten by the lizard,
what was this boy actually doing? You know, he has this flower
behind his ear. It’s been read
in a, sort of, homoerotic vein, as well, and there is something very sensual
and sensuous about this picture. And of this early group of paintings,
of youths and boys, which I should say are often based
clearly on live models, and on people that Caravaggio knew. Sometimes they also include
his own portrait. We know he used his own image,
because he couldn’t afford models. He couldn’t afford to pay models. And this picture has also been read
as a self-portrait, although, generally,
now that’s discounted. I personally don’t think
it’s a self-portrait. I’m sure you know this picture
and if not, do come and look at it more closely. The really striking element of these early
works is the quality of the still life. This fruit, you can just pick these
cherries up – it’s good enough to eat. And the combination of that
with these, sort of, sensual youths, quite androgynous-looking,
and rather ambiguous to read. It’s an odd subject, and you can imagine it would have spurred
interesting and lively conversation, if it was hanging on a cardinal’s wall
or in, sort of, elite circles. And as well as this sort of picture
of a youth, there’s a famous picture in the Borghese, of a boy holding a basket of fruit,
as well, where, once again, still life plays a very
important role in these early pictures. He also painted, sort of, street scenes,
famously the ‘Cardsharps’, you know, card players cheating,
hiding cards behind, another man behind signalling,
or fortune tellers. These were highly theatrical scenes, but things one would have seen in everyday
life in the streets of Rome at the time, but incredibly novel, to, sort of, elevate these genres in a way
to, sort of, history painting. You know, still life was really the
lowest form of painting in around 1600 but yet Caravaggio
really manages to elevate that. He famously said
that painting still lives required as much artistry
as painting the figure, which, you know, to us today doesn’t seem
such a sort of dramatic thing to say, but at the time
it was really quite a novel approach. But what he means is the importance
of nature, of looking around, and so this was his real innovation. It was looking at nature and painting
still life, but also using live models, and he was also criticised for this
later on his career, you know, for the fact
that he didn’t select the best in nature, he just painted exactly
what was in front of him. But it was really the sort
of most original aspect of his art. So, these early pictures
brought Caravaggio to the attention of powerful
and influential patrons in Rome, principally
the Cardinal Francesco Maria del Monte, who then invites Caravaggio
to live with him in his palazzo, so he now is looked after, protected. For about five years. And also
the Marchese Vincenzo Giustiniani, another key figure in Rome at the time. And they start buying pictures by him, they start commissioning pictures
from him, and, you know,
he’s certainly far more comfortable within quite a short space of time. But the real breakthrough for his career
comes in 1599. He receives the commission
to paint the pictures today in the Contarelli Chapel
in San Luigi dei Francesi, and you have to remember
these genre paintings were for a private patron,
and also for a private environment. They were hanging in these palazzi, and they were accessible to only
a few people, an elite, if you like. But suddenly this is
his first public commission, and it’s the first time that his art can
be seen in the public domain, if you like, is accessible to artists,
and people visiting Rome. And when these pictures were unveiled, and you can still see them today
in the Contarelli Chapel, ‘The Calling of St Matthew’,
and ‘The Martyrdom of St Matthew’, when they were unveiled,
I mean, it caused a real sensation. We know from the biographers, people flocked to Rome
to see these pictures. And, of course,
it was part of an artist’s training. You would go to Rome,
and you would look at classical antiquity, and you would also look
at contemporary art being produced. Artists from all over Europe
were coming to Rome, and so very quickly Caravaggio’s
fame and reputation really went far beyond the confines of
Rome itself with these public paintings. Shortly after the Contarelli Chapel,
he was commissioned to paint pictures in Santa Maria del Popolo,
in the Cerasi Chapel. Again, these are private commissions,
these are private patrons. It’s not the church itself
commissioning him. But these pictures
were finally on view in public. That’s why, in a way, there’s a delayed
public reaction to Caravaggio’s art. He’d been in Rome for a number of years,
but 1600 is a key moment. And the result of that
is that he’s hugely sought after, and as well as del Monte and Giustiniani,
who I’ve referred to, there are three brothers, the Mattei,
who are very wealthy bankers in Rome, and they commission Caravaggio three
paintings in the course of two years, and we know that
because we have documents, and he goes to live
in one of the brother’s palazzi. And one of those pictures
is ‘The Supper at Emmaus’ that we have here in the National Gallery. This is painted in 1601, and, for me, it sort of shows
he’s really at the height of his career. He’s riding on a wave,
you know, on the crest of the wave. He’s incredibly famous at this point,
and he’s already developed as an artist. I mean, you can see just by comparing
the two pictures either side of me, there are, sort of, awkwardnesses,
particularly in the anatomy of this boy, and the way the shoulder
doesn’t quite work. You can see there’s a sophistication
already in ‘The Supper at Emmaus’. The other extraordinary thing about
his art, not just using of live models, is, of course, his use of light, which
is what he’s now also most famous for. But what was extraordinary
about his use of light is it’s using the light in a way, not just for, sort of, the aesthetic
enhancement of the picture, but the light always really underpins
the meaning in his pictures. So, here we have the risen Christ. Instead of showing him
on the road to Emmaus, where he meets two disciples,
who don’t immediately recognise him, they invite him to supper,
and here they are at supper. And this is the moment
that Christ blesses the bread, and the disciples realise that
they’re sitting with the risen Christ. And he’s chosen the culminating moment
in the narrative, and this is what Caravaggio’s
so… so brilliant at doing. It’s a familiar subject, but he represents
it in a completely novel way, with a, sort of, freshness of vision,
as well. And, as I say, he chooses
the culminating moment in the narrative, and the light is essential
in conveying the story here, because it’s the light of recognition. This is the moment the disciples
have recognised him. This one’s leaping out of his chair.
His elbow’s jutting out. The other one has, sort of,
spread his arms in surprise. And the innkeeper, completely oblivious
to what’s happening, remains in the dark. You know, his face is in shadow, because
he hasn’t seen the light, if you like. And this wonderful light, not only underlines the message
behind the picture, if you like, and really enhances the message within, it’s, of course,
very theatrical, very dramatic, and the way he crops the composition
is very theatrical. This, sort of, half-,
three-quarter length cropping brings you right into the picture space. You are no longer just a passive viewer,
you are taking part. You’re a participant in this picture. Not just because their elbows
are jutting out into your space, or their arms are being thrust out
into your space, but, of course, this brilliant device
of the basket of fruit. You know, you’re so tempted
to just push it back. It’s so precariously balanced
on the edge of this table. And it’s even more vivid, because, actually, this picture
is so carefully worked out. When we did x-rays and infrareds, there are almost no changes
in this picture, except for one, and that is that the apostle on the right, originally his knee
was in front of the tablecloth, and what he did was he changed it,
and put it behind the white cloth. And, of course,
it’s obvious why he did that. It’s to emphasise
the projection of his arm, and, of course,
the projection of the basket, because it makes it so much more vivid,
this basket falling into our space. The still life here, again, is sublime. It’s developed beyond the still life
in the ‘Boy bitten by a Lizard’. And, once again, this fruit
is, you know, good enough to eat. You can smell it
and you can touch it almost. The picture was, clearly, greatly admired. It sort of encapsulates everything
that people admired in Caravaggio, but it was also criticised. One of the biographers, Bellore in 1672, criticised it
for showing Christ unbearded. I mean, he is shown
youthful and unbearded, which is certainly unusual,
and a little unorthodox. I mean, Michelangelo did that in the
Sistine Chapel in ‘The Last Judgement’, so Caravaggio wasn’t the first. In fact, he may have well been
trying to reference that in a, sort of, subliminal way. But it was also criticised
for the fruit, saying, “This fruit couldn’t possibly be in season
at the same time and at Easter time, when this episode took place.” And I find that amusing
because it’s almost Bellore’s irritation, that it’s so convincing, and,
you know, Caravaggio’s really tricking us into believing this fruit
exists in this basket. He says, “Of course,
it couldn’t exist at all at once in one basket at this time of year.” But, in a way, that encapsulates also
how polemical Caravaggio was. His whole approach to art
was very different from other artists. He may have received sort of traditional
training in the workshop of Peterzano, but his approach
was very much no drawing, there are no drawings that exist, although one has to assume,
with a composition like this, there must have been preparatory
drawings that now no longer exist. And he very much painted directly,
you know, in front of the models, positioning them,
using these strong light sources. And this was
an incredibly novel way of painting. Very unlike normal studio practice
at the time. This picture also, sort of, exemplifies
these kind of religious history paintings that Caravaggio became so famous in doing, but also so… so good at, which were essentially
for a private clientele, predominately of religious subjects,
religious subject matter, intended for palazzi. But sort of painting these religious
pictures almost like history paintings. There’s a real timeless quality
about these pictures, I think, and that’s largely also to do with,
I think, the light, this use of light, because the still life brings this picture
into our own reality, if you like. It’s so realistic.
We feel that it’s in our time. And yet the, sort of, light
encompassing the picture does, kind of, give it
this very timeless, eternal quality. So, 1601, as I said,
he’s riding the crest of the wave. This is really the moment
for Caravaggio in Rome, and the commissions just keep coming, mainly from private collectors,
from private patrons, some for altarpieces,
for their own chapels within churches, but a great deal of these
sorts of religious history pictures. But this is also when fame
slightly gets to his head, and he really does
get into quite a lot of trouble from about 1602 to 1606. We can tell from the police records. You know, he’s constantly called in. You know, carrying a sword
without a licence. You were not allowed
to walk around Rome with a sword. If you were under the patronage of someone like the Cardinal del Monte
in his household, fine, but not around the streets of Rome, and
certainly not threatening people with it. But, once again, I suppose
Caravaggio’s become this cult figure, and everyone looks at him
slightly in isolation. And I can assure you
he was not alone in doing this. Many artists at the time were caught
and arrested on the same things, really. But there are these famous episodes. In 1603 Caravaggio’s involved in a very, sort of, vicious libel trial. His contemporary and rival,
Giovanni Baglione, accused Caravaggio and others of writing
some very scurrilous verses about him, and, sort of, posting them all round Rome. And this trial
is actually beautifully documented, and it’s the only time we hear
Caravaggio’s own words, if you like, from his own mouth, because
he’s in the witness box, as it were, and it’s written down
what he thinks about art, who he befriends, who he knows in Rome, and it’s a really useful piece
of information, but it is one of the very few bits
of information we have about him. In 1604 there’s a famous episode
where he’s at the Taverna del Moro, and the waiter brings him
a plate of artichokes. Four of them are cooked in oil,
four of them are cooked in butter, and when Caravaggio receives the plate, he asks the waiter,
“Which are butter and which are oil?” Then the waiter says,
“Why don’t you smell them and find out?” He picks up a plate,
throws the plate at the waiter, cuts him, threatens him with his sword, and
the waiter runs straight to the police. And his testimony, it’s interesting because you get a view,
if you like, of Caravaggio, but, again, he’s not alone. It was a very violent place, Rome,
in 1600, 1610, and artists were not the only ones, you
know, getting up to these sorts of tricks. 1605, his landlady sues him because, in fact, Caravaggio
had wounded a notary, and then had escaped from Rome. He’d run to Genoa for a few months. He came back to find he couldn’t get
into the house he’d rented, and his landlady said,
“Well, I’ve seized all your possessions, because you hadn’t paid me rent
for six months. You’ve also damaged my ceiling,
and I’m not letting you in.” So, he starts throwing stones
at her window, and we know this again, because
there’s a trial, and her testimony. And so we know
he’s in quite a lot of trouble. At this point he’s not resident
in a wealthy patron’s home either. But you can feel that, you know, he… We know one of the biographers,
in fact, says, “Well, he paints for a bit, for a couple
of weeks, and then he wanders about Rome, strides about Rome with a sword
on his hip for a month or two.” So, he obviously
has, sort of, surges of productivity, and then really ended up
getting into trouble. And you feel slightly that
it’s slightly spiralling out of control, and, of course, it’s all heading
towards the famous incident in 1606, where he gets into a scuffle
with Ranuccio Tomassoni, and wounds him fatally, and following this murder,
he runs from Rome. And then he’s, really, on the run. I mean, pretty much
for the last four years of his life. He first goes to Naples for a few
months, and then makes his way to Malta, where he’s actually made
a Knight of the Order of Saint John. A great thing to be granted, if you like. Paints some wonderful pictures there, including the famous ‘The Beheading
of Saint John the Baptist’, in Malta, sort of, in exchange,
if you like, for the knighthood. But also gets into trouble there.
Gets imprisoned. Manages to escape from prison. Clearly someone helping him
on the inside. Makes his way to Sicily. Moves around Sicily,
and makes his way back to Naples. And all this because he really wants
to get back to Rome, and he’s waiting for the Papal Pardon
after the murder of Tomassoni. You feel, in a way,
through his art, as well, that there is a sort of… he’s running. His art definitely changes key. Once again, we’re very lucky here
to have an example of his late works, ‘The Salome receives
the Head of John the Baptist’. And you can see how different
that picture is from everything else, you know, that I’ve spoken about so far. It’s pairing it down
to its bare essentials. The palette is much more muted. The brushwork, you know, it’s really moved away
from the very descriptive approach in these early works,
particularly in ‘The Supper at Emmaus’, this beautifully refined brushwork. Here, the handling is much broader. It’s much more expressionistic,
if you like, and there’s a real emphasis on the kind
of rhetoric, on gesture and expression. Also, this kind of zooming in on a scene, I think, you know,
makes it all the more powerful. This is Salome, who Herod said, “What
is your wish? I’ll grant you anything.” And she says, “I want the head
of John the Baptist,” so he’s beheaded. And here you have the brutal executioner
thrusting forward, rather like this man thrusts his arm out,
he thrusts the head forward, and he’s dropping it into the salver,
into the platter. And the Baptist’s mouth is still open, whether he’s emitting a scream,
or it’s his last breath. It’s a very moving thing, and
that’s right in the front of the picture. Here you have a beautiful basket of fruit. There you have this decapitated head,
right in front. And I find it a very moving picture, partly through the way
he’s applied the paint. As I said, it’s very broadly painted. You can feel
there’s more kind of expression in the way he actually
lays the paint on the canvas. And, you know,
there’s no sense of background at all. I mean, here, of course,
you have a, sort of, sense they’re in a kind of neutral place – there’s a wall with a light behind,
and so on, but here they’re really in darkness. And I think it’s all the more effective
for it. Much more theatrical. And so the brutality of the executioner,
thrusting this head forward, is an interesting counterpoint to
the really quiet figure of the old maid. She’s so sorrowful.
She’s so introspective. That head in shadow,
sort of, looking down. And these are types. You know, by this point,
it’s generally believed that he wasn’t using live models
in the way that he was earlier on, positioning models. These types reappear
in other pictures of this date. Although, of course, they must be
inspired by people around him, I don’t think he positioned them
in the same way that he would have done, in this very
orchestrated way, in the earlier pictures. I find very moving this juxtaposition of the youthful and beautiful Salome
with the old maid, you know, sort of looking
in two different directions. I mean, it’s a picture
that, at first glance, looks so simple, but there’s great complexity
here, I think, and you can read it in so many ways. And I find Salome, overall,
is so enigmatic. She demanded
to have the head of John the Baptist, and what is she feeling here? She’s looking away,
and, you know, is it disgust, you know, the, sort of, bloody head? I mean, she’s holding platter
with her white cloth, almost like she can’t bear to hold it
with her bare hands. But there’s a sort of
melancholic expression, so, I mean, I read, sort of, regret
almost there and shame at having requested such a thing. But, you know, these three heads,
in a way, are heads of expression, which, sort of, brings us back
right to the beginning. This is what Caravaggio
was so good at doing, and communicating expressions
through his figures, through light. And here the palette is so subdued. You have colour in these pictures,
but this really is very limited. It’s a black-and-white picture,
more or less. This picture
was probably painted in Naples, as I said, the second stay in Naples,
while he was on the run… …while he was trying
to make his way back to Rome. Now, it seems that he heard
that a Papal Pardon had been released, so he boarded a boat in Naples,
on its way to Rome, with paintings to present to Scipione Borghese,
the Papal nephew. And the boat stopped at Porto Ercole,
where he was arrested. And, in fact,
there was a misunderstanding. He was thought to be someone else. And when he was finally released, the boat had disappeared,
his pictures had disappeared, and desperate he set out on foot
to make his way back to Rome. And he caught a fever,
and there he died. A very solitary death,
a very lonely death, and he was 39. And it’s interesting to remember that,
because for an artist of such fame, you think of people
in a similar sort of league – you know, Titian, Rubens, Rembrandt,
particularly Titian and Rembrandt – they painted well into old age, and they had incredibly vast
active workshops, churning out pupils. I mean, Caravaggio was essentially
quite a, sort of, solitary figure. He had no workshop
in the traditional sense to speak of. I mean, he must have had students,
and one or two have been identified, you know, helping him prepare pigments, particularly once he’d reached
fame and success. But he had no traditional workshop,
you know, of a master, sort of, teaching his pupils the rudiments
of drawing and painting, and so on. And he moved around a lot, but he
essentially stayed within Italy and Malta. You know, Titian, Rubens, they moved
across various courts in Europe. And it’s interesting because the
geographical confinement of Caravaggio of course,
didn’t stop his fame spreading, because, of course, Rome was
this magnet for artists at that time. But, you know, one has to remember,
in terms of documented activity, we only have about 18 years
of a, kind of, career that we know of. And it’s incredible that he had such
a lasting impact on artists at the time. Artists, as I said before, came to Rome,
as part of their training, if you like. They came to look at antiquity,
contemporary art, and, of course, artists
from all over Europe. There were an enormous number of Dutch, Flemish and French
artists in Rome in the period of Caravaggio’s lifetime, but also in the decades
immediately following. And this, of course, helped spread
his fame well beyond Rome itself. These artists came to Rome, spent a few years studying
the art there, working there, Honthorst, Ter Brugghen, Baburen. I mean, some of these even stayed in
the palazzi of Caravaggio’s own patrons, and then they went back to Utrecht or
to Flanders, or wherever they came from, and they would carry back
Caravaggio’s style, and also interpret it in their own way. And so his style, really,
got propagated across Europe in very many different ways. Of course, every artist took something
different from Caravaggio. Northern artists were particularly struck by his use of nature and of live models. That’s more in line
with their own tradition of painting. I mean, the use of light, of course, had a huge impact on art
in the 17th century. But, of course, that changes. You know, one thinks of Caravaggio,
having invented the candlelight scene, he never painted a single candle. It’s extraordinary,
because we all think that. But, of course, these candle-lit scenes,
that one associates with him, of course, derive
from his very singular use of light. But they’re, sort of, taken
to a whole new level, and, of course, Georges de La Tour takes it, really, to a great level
of sophistication and theatricality. But he probably never even went
to Italy, he never saw a Caravaggio. So, there are, sort of,
misconceptions a bit about Caravaggio’s influence on artists
in his own day. But also his influence had
a, sort of, ripple effect across Europe, I think, became diluted, because,
of course, an artist would go to Rome, and then would absorb things
from Caravaggio, go back to where he’d come from, and, in a way, amalgamate that
into their own style. This is something I’m interested in,
and this autumn, we’re going to be
having an exhibition here, that opens in October,
called ‘Beyond Caravaggio’, and that’s going to be looking at,
not Caravaggio in isolation, but very much at the impact
that he had on art across Europe, really, in those, sort of,
first 30, 40 years of the 17th century. Caravaggio dies.
As I said, he dies in 1610. He’s 39. And yet he has this enormous impact
on art immediately. And, in fact, in a way, it really,
sort of, balloons after his death. You can see that collectors
are desperately scrabbling, trying to by pictures by him, and pictures by his followers,
commissioning pictures by his followers, And more and more of these works are
being produced just for the open market. There’s clearly a huge demand for them.
But it’s all over. By the middle of the century,
by about 1630 in Rome, and by the middle
of the 17th century across Europe, Caravaggio and Caravaggism, which
is this, sort of, artistic phenomenon, has been called Caravaggism,
is really out of favour, and, you know, Caravaggio
really falls into oblivion, and I don’t think
people really know that. Now he’s such a famous figure, but he was only really rediscovered
in the early 20th century. You know, it’s relatively recent times, culminating in a really important
exhibition in Milan in 1951, which presented, for the first time, all known works by Caravaggio
and the Caravaggisti, by his followers. And it’s only really in the last,
sort of, 60, 70 years, if you like, that an enormous amount of interest
has been applied to Caravaggio, and, of course, now to those artists
known in his circle. But I hope that through
these three pictures, I’ve been able to tell you
a bit about Caravaggio’s life, but also, I think, here
in the National Gallery you can see just how his style develops over time. These three pictures are so different, and, in a way, reading them alongside the biographical details
of the artist’s life, are really key, you know, from the importance of nature
and expression in the early works, to the great sophistication
of his mature works. And you can see in a picture like this just how original he must have seemed
to his contemporaries. And then the late pictures, which, of course, were the subject
of an exhibition here a few years ago, ‘Caravaggio: The Final Years’. They’re, sort of,
on a different emotional key, I think. Thank you very much.


  • Jose Trujillo says:

    I like the conversation she has on the painting of the supper. However, I see this the depth of this painting much deeper than the rising Christ. Caravaggio was a very deep artist, only silence of mind could have brought about those paintings. In my view of this painting; he depicted a Christ who is talking to all of us – about the depth of the vertical aspect of life (time). Notice the hands of Christ are speaking not of him but of a deeper reality. His left hand is on the table almost speaking 'now' or 'here' and the other is pointing at a vertical axis. He is talking about the kingdom of heaven which is life itself, which it only in the present moment.. Notice the other man on the left is saying how big or wide is kingdom. That is a symbol of the horizontal reality in which we know time. The practical aspect of time is horizontal; since it is made of past and future. I believe Caravaggio was talking about the depth of life and the real teachings of Christianity.

  • NickPenlee says:

    Great presentation but I wish they'd boost the volume on these talks; the "Rubens" Samson and Delilah video has far better audio!

  • Tim Francis says:

    Very fine lecture, a great listen about a very great and important artist,

  • iamsmiling says:

    Thanks for such an amazing video. I just spotted more videos I will definitely find time to watch.

  • Saul17r says:

    great storytelling

  • Mike James says:

    Outstanding! Thank you Letizia, for the excellent and detailed lecture. Fascinating to hear about the many things that may have influenced Caravaggio's work.

  • Solidify says:

    Everyone should visit the National Gallery!!!

  • jeremy van says:

    you are doing great work

  • keane603 says:


  • Matthew Donovon says:

    WTH? Is this woman working on a time restraint, or does she just have a caffeine problem?!? She speaks SO quickly, I couldn't understand many of her words! :-/

  • ElmwoodParkHulk says:

    Excellent ,best curator I have ever heard ,she loves what she does ,appreciate the passion and love for this work

  • Mattis Tanneau nazarre says:

    Great talk! Very interesting! Many thanks 🌟💐

  • Jen mcguirk says:

    what about the use of lenses ah

  • taxi driver says:

    che tettazze la Letizia!

  • Ana Lazarescu says:

    i just love this woman, she put it all together so good <3

  • lonemapper says:

    Thank you for this. Loved it!

  • Aryeh Finklestein says:

    Fabulous presentation – edifying. Thankyou.

  • Salvador Gonzalez says:

    Simply a masterpiece.

  • Mike Nino says:

    Is the Artist still Alive.

  • Derrick Haynes says:


  • fr3@kb!+¢h says:

    this lady is legit.

  • Nishita Jain says:

    There is a high possibility that Caravaggio has painted the supper at Emmaus, narrating his own story of meeting the Mattei brothers, the characters Cleopas and Symeon(authenticity of the name is Controversial) the two disciples are actually Ciriaco and Girolamo, meeting Christ as Caravaggio(intended) unknowingly,( modelled by a woman for the painting so that Caravaggio could see and paint, also gives the benefit of having long hair logs to represent Christ)

    As I am unable to make attachment to this comment, please see Caravaggio's painting of supper at Emmaus(The man standing) and portrait of Asdrubale Mattei side by side, and you will know what I am saying, although this could be completely staged just for the production of the painting, but this is something one can search for, that whether the two stories have a connection.

    If you zoom and see, the eyes of the man sitting on the left(of the viewer) may look full of surprise, but as you can see, he is squinting as well, the situation arises when a man is trying very hard to focus and see, but is heavily drunk, trying his best to remain awake, all of them on the table are drunk and enjoying the dinner, all the three brothers have dressed penuriously for the painting, as they were all wealthy men (refer to the clothes on Asdrubale Mattei's portrait.) and the brother's history.

    I see an early version of studio photography here, done with painting.

    Thanks Ms.Treves for the amazing lecture.

    Following are the links for comparison-,_London)#/media/File:1602-3_Caravaggio,Supper_at_Emmaus_National_Gallery,_London.jpg

  • Karen Kirkpatrick says:

    Great lecture. The National Gallery is quite fortunate to have three Caravaggio paintings. For those interested in his work and lifetime in greater detail, read Francine Prose's small book, "Caravaggio-Painter of Miracles". The guy really tore up the streets while he lived but never really stopped painting until he died. He was ahead of his time. Thank you for the upload!

  • Jakub Kučera says:

    Great, thank you!

  • M Ouija says:

    If Caravaggio were alive today, he would be a graffiti writer.

    It would be a lot better if working artists gave these talks and spoke from some actual experience instead of an academic perspective. As a professional artist, I feel like 99.9% of museum staff have nominal to no experience with the process of producing a painting from start to finish. The conjecture that they love to add in only confuses and mystifies the act of painting as something you can't ever learn to do. I kinda chuckled when she presented the idea that Caravaggio MUST have done sketches for his paintings. The guy had been a working artist for over a decade. He knew what he was doing. I'd much rather play around on an underpainting that I can manipulate like clay and use as the foundation for the final product than waste a bunch of time with paper and charcoal. It's a waste of time unless the client demands it as part of the contract.

    Those gilded frames are ugly AF.

  • MEIRYJANNE_ says:


  • cosmicality says:

    Certainly helped me with my history assignment because i'm too lazy to read!

  • Alaa Elsayed ART says:

    Thank you for sharing this and for the information. The speaker is very talented.


    thank you so mush 🙂

  • Patricia Deerr says:

    This information is amazing
    Thank you

  • Shilonious Monk says:

    All manufactured trash…

  • Jane Jones says:

    Many of these Biblical figures could be self portraits of Caravaggio…as he seems to personally embody the drama on a very deep and passionate way. What an amazing lecture, thank-you!💞🕊🌸🇨🇦


    Thanks, thanks, thanks!!!! For approaching art to my house!! This woman instills the passion for ART and lot of knowledge!! BRAVO!!!

  • anıl erden says:

    very nice documentary

  • Thomas Bingel says:


  • jerebuck says:

    Wonderful! Thank you.

  • VenancioPineda says:

    In the bible it is said that jesus got confused with the gardener and among the jews the gardeners were forced to shave the beard, so it's a detail of precision from Caravaggio to show Jesus without beard

  • Michael Scribe says:


  • Lord Hades says:

    I've always felt that Caravaggio was greatly underappreciated, ever since I first learned about him and all the madness surrounding his life. Behind all the chaos there was noting but brilliance.

  • xyzllii says:

    National Gallery. Why have you not deleted the misogynist remarks from Anishule Islam and Kevin Manning?

  • caroline says:

    impressive lecture!

  • William schlenger says:

    I model my paintings after the masters but the world wants crap art not well done art🤔

  • Keebl says:

    I saw those paintings yesterday and I can unambiguously recommend to visit this part of National Gallery to everybody interested in old art. Esp. Supper at Emmaus is magic.

  • Darlgo says:

    Thoroughly enjoyable, thank you

  • threepot says:

    Nice presentation.

  • Irena Pipikiene says:

    Why does she speak so quickly, it’s impossible even to follow her words or facts, no, it’s too complicated, I am sorry..

  • ja du says:

    thank You NG for this lecture…

  • Gregor P says:

    Letizia Treves is an top-notch art historian/speaker whose passion & knowledge kept me mesmerized.

  • Mothusi Yane says:

    Amazing, very informative both the details of his life and how his experiences informed his work.

  • Michael Byrd says:

    Interestingly enough I live in a suburb of Dallas, two weeks ago I drove to Ft.. Worth and saw Cardsharps it's housed in the Kimball Museum. That and many works by the old masters, it's a pretty awesome painting. Caravaggio was awesome! It'd be cool in have it hanging in my apartment.

  • Marianna Kovalev says:

    Thank you for shearing.

  • Rob Coghan says:

    I would be interested to know why this basic face you see repeated in his work is not autobiographical?

  • Paulo Brasil says:

    If i was filthy filthy rich, i wouldn't give a flying fuck about owning planes and boats or stupid shit like that. But i'd chop an arm off to have a Caravaggio painting.
    Though i personally think works of this stature shouldn't be privately owned, unless they were privately comissioned by the person to the artists themselves.
    But good lord, they are so so so amazing, so ground breaking.

  • Mr Richie Kaye says:

    Wonderful talk, enjoyable and instructive.

  • Alfonso Palmieri says:

    Al Nazional Gallery le ho viste le opere del grande Caravaggio…stupende opere stupendo Museo!

  • Semra Bahcivan says:

    Thank for sharing

  • Diana L. Clausen says:

    Lovely lecture by a wonderful curator. PLEASE, can the camera stay on the painting while she is referring to each. While it is obviously too late for this presentation, PLEASE consider more attention to the painting(s) in the future. Love learning, learning, learning. Thank you.

  • ddt3500 last says:

    ha ha big boobs

  • iulian ispas says:

    His paintings are amazing apparently in real life was sexualy confused

  • Goedelite Kurt says:

    Though I enjoy paintings, I confess to responding more to music than to the former. To me a curious difference between music and painting as art forms, in that musicians justifiably, I feel, make frequent reference to the universality of music. Taking Caravaggio's "Supper at Emmaus" as an example, I find painting far narrower in scope. I view the image and am greatly impressed with the skill of the artist in representing vividly the basket of fruit so that one can almost smell and taste the grapes, etc. The subject is not one that has universal appeal. I believe that a pious Christian would be greatly affect by it, but to me it is no more emotionally relevant than an ancient Greek myth. More interesting for its mythological narrative than the Greek, because I live in a predominantly Christian country – whereas there are very few people who believe in the Greek gods. We don't even capitalize the latter. Western music has a universal appeal, both emotionally and intellectually. Asians are highly accomplished musicians, and their orchestras are among the best in the world. Western music has far greater claim to universality than western painting in my opinion.

  • Paul Kane says:

    I'll say it , I'm young enough to be forgiven, does anyone notice her tits? God bless Art

  • Omer Peretz says:

    She’s just marvelous

  • Mancal says:

    Now this is art, not what is labeled as such these days.

  • Andre Newcomb says:

    The arms extended and leaning over (The Last Supper) suggest the Risen (crucified) Christ flying over the Earth.

  • Andre Newcomb says:

    Eucharist gift? bringing liberation (death) rather than a scourging.

  • WebANTV says:

    Alla Permanente di Milano c'è la mostra immersiva su Caravaggio. Ecco i capolavori del pittore a Malta.

  • Asaf Moshe Rozen says:

    You made me learn many new words in english

  • yi zhang says:

    what a charming speaker

  • Sergio Gomez says:

    Hola cordial saludos. Es un derecho ya otorgado a los grandes genios de la pintura universal maestri Della tavolozza italiana obra maestra Geovanny lambton el RED BOY número artístico 945 1769 1830 dé sir Thomas Lawrence 250 años dé antigüedad coleccionista privado de Colombia lo expone al mundo del arte mundial . pintura sobre lienzo disponible a negociación sé eschan ofertas

  • the therorist says:

    There was no caravaggio

  • Hans Richter says:

    Brexitannian erudition applied to superior European art

  • Peter Puleo says:

    In "The Beheading of John the Baptist" the executioner looks suspiciously like the more famous Michelangelo, especially in the conspicuously painted nose. Is this my imagination, or was Caravaggio up to some hi-jinks here?

  • Peter Puleo says:

    The Art Institute of Chicago has a crucifixion painting that is attributed to "after Caravaggio". I am not sure what that means, but the painting takes my breath away. It surely looks like something done by Caravaggio himself.

  • Ukcreator says:

    thank you for the documentary…appreciated… just a small note for the curator… you may try to use less "if you like"..

  • um jackie says:

    shes an amazing speaker. very engaging and passionate. thanks for this informative video!

  • Patricia Thomas says:

    Fabulous talk. I saw plenty of Caravaggios during my stay in Rome. Seeing his works in the flesh are life changing, hearing about his life is even more so. Thank you.

  • Andrea Consiglio says:

    Why our italian paintings are in the national gallery? art in England is nothing if compared with Italian's

  • George Adamchik says:


  • George Adamchik says:

    Idix yome copy
    I did yome
    Ii xid some copy

  • Monika Primc says:

    is talking more important than Caravaggio s paintings

  • Richard Paddington says:

    Superb work. The best non political review of Caravaggio I have ever encountered.

  • shisui uzumaki says:

    I subscribed.. so beautiful

  • andimatrus says:

    Lovely speech, it was really enlighten, I have always been a Caravaggio fan and it's great to see a fresh approach to his work.

  • Jacobs_Rifles says:


  • Rodolfo Suarez says:

    She’s an amazing curator, really knows what she’s talking about but being a man does hinder my ability to pay attention when her personalities keep distracting me 😭😭😭

  • Jorge Silveira says:

    perfect, but the sound is too low!!

  • Mr. Butch says:

    Interesting. I think the homoeroticism of Caravaggio – mentioned in passing – was understated and not given the recognition it deserves.

  • Jonathan Gil Santillan says:

    GREAT TREASURE! thank you for this video!!!

  • TerpeneProfile says:

    Get this woman a glass of damn water

  • Kamsat Gozegelen says:

    If you like x 200049488484

  • Telthecelt says:

    Wonderful lecture by a capable, knowledgeable enthusiast. Thanks,

  • Dream Emulator says:

    These lectures are just so great.

  • MultiTorres777 says:

    Could listen to this woman forever

  • Borderline Wild Camping says:

    Thank you very much for the lecture. I just discovered Caravaggio, the painter in the Barrok. Very informative the video.

  • Alex Thiebaut says:

    I am still amazed at how this painting has been misinterpreted for all those years. And yet, you cannot sit 30 minutes in front of it without having 4 tour guides giving out their erroneous analysis. Most people are captivated by the Supper at Emmaus but none of them knows why, it's not because of a bloody elbow, a fruit basket and a stretched hand, dimwits.

  • al meggs says:

    When did “pictures “ become the opus for PAINTINGS?
    Is this a sign of the abomination of the modern false education?

  • David Mayhew says:


  • don reed says:

    Perhaps Caravaggio's painting has a deeper meaning. Why the beardless, youthful Jesus? Why didn't the disciples recognize him on the road to Emmaus? Is it because the appearance of Jesus may appear in others, suddenly, astoundingly! "Whatever you do to the least of my brothers, that you do unto me."

  • Jonathan Faydi says:

    I love the engaging style of the speaker! She manages to go through the ups and downs of Caravaggio's turbulent life in just 30 minutes, in plain English and without sounding pompous at all. Thanks to the National Gallery for sharing this talk on YouTube!

  • Bhargavi Murthy says:

    BAROQUE lady! Nevertheless, this was done extremely well.

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