Caravaggio Painter of Miracles – Book Review

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by Edith Cody-Rice

Caravaggio, Painter of Miracles is not a new book. In fact it was published in 2005. The author, Francine Prose, is a distinguished biographer with eighteen books to her credit. Her book on Caravaggio is part of the Eminent Lives Series of twelve biographies of such personalities as Shakespeare Muhammed, and George Washington by well known writers.

Not enough for artists and devotees, no doubt, this short 146  page biography is sufficient for the rest of us to glimpse the riches to rags story of this 16th century bad boy.

Aside from glowing reviews garnered from publications like the New York Times, the distinguishing feature of this biography is that it was recommended to a friend of mine by the Director of the National Gallery of Canada, Marc Mayer, as a handbook for the summer blockbuster Caravaggio show at the Gallery which opened June 17.

Made rich by commissions from patrons, Caravaggio faced poverty when he was repeatedly forced to flee – to Naples, to Malta, to Syracuse, as a result of brawls and bad behaviour. He was repeatedly protected and redeemed by lucrative commissions in cities that welcomed his genius, but were soon disenchanted by his behaviour and, at times his revolutionary painting. His portrayal of religious icons as the man and woman next door, if not the whore down the street, offended some quarters while it impressed others.

After a violent and turbulent life he died at the age of 39, oddly enough, not as a result of violence, but on his way back to Rome, after having being pardoned for murder. He was tracking his valuable paintings on foot as they had sailed on a boat without him.

Forgotten, if not regarded  with contempt by art critics for several centuries, he has reemerged as the brilliant artist his 16th and 17th century patrons recognized. The National Gallery exhibition promises much and this biography is a short but excellent guide.

Caravaggio, Painter of Miracles is available in paperback from Mill Street Books in Almonte  for $17.99

Further Reading: Caravaggio by Andrew Graham-Dixon, a more detailed study of Caravaggio’s life and work published in August 2010, is available through Mill Street Books for  $49