Cover image for Caravaggio and His Two Cardinals By Jean  G. Harrell

Caravaggio and His Two Cardinals

Jean G. Harrell

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336 pages
8.5" × 11"
56 b&w illustrations
1995

Caravaggio and His Two Cardinals

Jean G. Harrell

“Timely in terms of its argument, interest in this book will not be limited to a small group of art historical specialists, though it will be obligatory reading for them too. The book will stimulate discussion and no doubt controversy, but that is what good books do.”

 

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This study focuses on three paintings done by Caravaggio for the two Mattei brothers—a cardinal and a marquis who shared the family palace and, for a time, had Caravaggio as a house guest. The Mattei family has been given short shrift in the literature about Caravaggio, which otherwise has rightly devoted great attention to his patrons. This context enriches our understanding of the paintings—the "Pastor Friso," often dubiously said to represent John the Baptist, the Supper at Emmaus in the London National Gallery, and the newly rediscovered Kiss of Judas in Dublin—then implicates wider contexts, including a comparative study of the artist's most famous works, the Matthew cycle in the Contarelli chapel, and his other patrons, specifically Cardinal Del Monte. An examination of these relationships allows valuable insight into the question of Caravaggio's "naturalist style," his peers, and his period.

In its intellectual approach, Caravaggio and His Two Cardinals is a series of extended essays on diverse topics that involve the politics of Counter-Reformation religion and propaganda; neo-Latin poetry; the social status of homosexuality in the period; dialect speech; and inheritance patterns of works of art in families. Gilbert's thoughtful insights on the theory of a homoerotic aspect in Caravaggio's work alone should provoke spirited scholarly discussion.

“Timely in terms of its argument, interest in this book will not be limited to a small group of art historical specialists, though it will be obligatory reading for them too. The book will stimulate discussion and no doubt controversy, but that is what good books do.”
“A highly scholarly and highly personal investigation of Caravaggio’s powers of invention, interleaved with a study of sexuality in early 17th-century Rome. . . . [It is] a text that meshes the genres of detective story and scholastic treatise.”
“I am writing to say how much I enjoyed [the book] and learned from it. The approach is devastating in its (seeming) simplicity, and again and again I was persuaded by [the] arguments.”
“Complex, clear thoughts and fresh, enlightening sequences of arguments here sketch an image of the artist that presents the painter in his artistic process, and in part, evaluates him in a surprisingly new way.”

Creighton Gilbert is Professor of the History of Art at Yale University. His books include Complete Poems and Selected Letters of Michelangelo (1980), Poets Seeing Artists' Work: Instances from the Italian Renaissance (1991), and Michelangelo On and Off the Sistine Ceiling (1994).

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