A Life Sacred and ProfaneBook - 2010
Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio lived the darkest and most dangerous life of any of the great painters. The worlds of Milan, Rome and Naples through which Caravaggio moved and which Andrew Graham-Dixon describes brilliantly in this book, are those of cardinals and whores, prayer and violence. The patrons of the church competed to have the leading artists of the day in their households, and the artists jostled for their favour. On the streets surrounding the churches and palaces, brawls and swordfights were regular occurrences. In one such fight Caravaggio, a particularly violent man, killed Ranuccio Tomassoni, a pimp, and fled afterwards to Naples and then Malta, home to the Knights of St John, where he escaped from prison following his conviction for another vicious assault. Fleeing once more he fell victim himself to a crippling vendetta attack. Shortly afterwards, he died while returning to Rome to seek a papal pardon for his crimes. He was thirty-eight years old.
In the course of this desperate life Caravaggio created the most dramatic paintings of his age, using ordinary men and women - often prostitutes and the very poor - to model for his depictions of classic religious scenes. Andrew Graham-Dixon's exceptionally illuminating readings of Caravaggio'spictures, which are the heart of the book, show very clearly how he created their drama, immediacy and humanity, and how completely he departed from the conventions of his time.
A note from the Editor-
This is one of the most compelling biographies of any kind I have ever been involved with. The writing grabs you by the throat - as the endorsement by double Man Booker prize-winner Peter Carey, which we print on the back of the book, attests. But more than that, Andrew Graham-Dixon is able to link Caravaggio's life and work more convincingly, I think, than any previous writer. You see how the pictures came out of his extraordinary, dark and dangerous life, and out of Italy at the height of the Counter-Reformation. And, amazingly, exactly four hundred years after Caravaggio's death, he has some important discoveries to report, which I believe finally solve two of the greatest mysteries hitherto about Caravaggio. Andrew has been working on the book for ten years but it has certainly been worth waiting for.
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