Rare Chance to Visit Caravaggio in L.A. at Getty


Italian painter Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (commonly known as Caravaggio) revolutionized art with his highly influential style. His best efforts are a must-see on a trip to Rome. Now, three celebrated Caravaggio works that have never left Italy are on display at the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, offering area residents and visitors a rare chance to see them in the U.S.

The Getty Center will feature “Caravaggio: Masterpieces from the Galleria Borghese”  from Nov. 21, 2017 through Feb. 18, 2018. The Galleria Borghese in Rome is home to six Caravaggio’s paintings, making it the world’s largest collection of his paintings.

“These three masterpieces are among Caravaggio’s best-known paintings, and we are extremely grateful to the Galleria Borghese for sharing them with our public, “ noted Getty Museum director Timothy Potts. ”Caravaggio’s revolutionary genius made him one of the most important and beloved figures in European art history. The opportunity to see three of his most renowned works alongside the exceptional 17th-century Italian masterpieces in our own collection is an event not to be missed.”

Potts referred to Caravaggio as a “supernova” whose career exploded then came to an early end with his death at age 39 (1571-1610). As Potts noted, the artist changed the nature of painting with his dark somber, realistic portrayals of bible and religious subjects as humans versus idealized and mannerist versions from his predecessors. Caravaggio’s bold naturalistic style used striking theatrical eye-catching compositions.

Three Stunning Images

The trio of paintings were acquired from Caravaggio himself by Cardinal Scipione Caffarelli Borghese (1577- 1633). The Cardinal’s collection of Italian art from the period is now housed at the Galleria Borghese, which is making this rare exhibition possible with their loan.

The works reflect different times in the artist’s brief career:

  • “The Boy with the Basket of Fruit” was painted in 1593-4, before he left his hometown of Lombardy for Rome. The light on the boy emphasizes his youth, whereas the detail in the fruit adds a luscious, intricate beauty.
  • “Saint Jerome, ” with its unusual composition and depiction of its subject as a thin old man, was created around 1605-6. This was a transitional period in the artist’s life. He was frequently in trouble that eventually culminated in his becoming a fugitive after killing a Roman rival.
  • “David with the Head of Goliath,” circa 1609-10, was one of his final works. He depicts David as a forlorn young man, holding his sword in one hand and the severed head of the older Goliath in the other. The dark background and use of lighting for stark contrast, exemplifies chiaroscuro, a painting technique considered to be part of Caravaggio’s legacy that changed painting and later influenced photography.

At the Getty, the Caravaggio works reside in a small gallery near the museum’s collection of 17th-century European artworks. As Potts noted, they wanted to make sure the three paintings would not seen out of place. As a result, they are situated  in a room near the sculpture by Gian Lorenzo Bernini that was also commissioned by Borghese and acquired by the museum a few years ago. Additionally, they are near other pieces that passed through Borghese’s collection at some point or were heavily influenced by Caravaggio.

Research Effort

The Getty loan is the inaugural part of an international exhibition  on Caravaggio planned by Galleria Borghese with support from FENDI. Their goal is to promote the efforts of the Caravaggio Research Institute.

“The Caravaggio Research Institute is an international scientific project that seeks to reintroduce within museums the most advanced research to make them producers of culture and not mere producers of blockbuster exhibitions,” explained Anna Coliva, director of the Galleria Borghese. The Caravaggio Research Institute aims to create the most complete database on Caravaggio. The plan is to create a digital platform that will eventually serve as a primary repository for information on the artist.

By Dyanne Weiss

Exhibition visit Nov. 19
J. Paul Getty Museum
Lonely Planet: Museo e Galleria Borghese
Encyclopedia Britannica: Caravaggio

Photo by Dyanne Weiss of “Saint Jerome,” about 1605-6. Caravaggio (Italian, 1571-1610). Oil on canvas. Ministero dei Beni e delle Attività Culturali e del Turismo–Galleria Borghese.

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