Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Stalking Caravaggio: a walk following the steps of the artist in Rome

Here we go with the second walking itinerary suggested by your faithful "Rome Nipper".

Today I'd like to entertain you guys with the places and life of one of my most favourite artist, Michelangelo Merisi from Caravaggio, popularly nicknamed after his birthplace, Caravaggio.
The chance to come up with this walk around the center of Rome came from an initiative of the Ministry of Cultural Activities and Heritage dating 2011, set up to celebrate the 400 years from the death of the artist (1571-2011).
Compared to the original walk, mine is waaay more simplified and less cultural, but I hope that you'll manage to enjoy it anyway ^_^ !
In case you care, here you can find the link to the interactive Google Map that you can spot above.

Ok then, let's start our walk from Palazzo Madama, now seat of the Italian Senate.

This charmingly fancy building was once the residence of Cardinal Francesco Maria dal Monte, the first, farsighted protectors of the Lombard artist.
As the painter was facing an obvious crisis due to his lack of money and his terrible temper, the cardinal offered to host him in his huge apartments. In return, Caravaggio produced an intense quantity of masterpieces, thus making of Cardinal Del Monte his very first, important commissioner.

Caravaggio painted for Del Monte and his circle of friends pieces like The Musicians, The Lute Player, the famous Bacchus, the prospectively intriguing Medusa, The Basket of Fruit but also the beautiful Saint Catherine of Alexandria and the Judith and Holofernes.

Caravaggio would stay in Palazzo Madama from the summer of 1597 to 1600.

A few steps from Palazzo Madama is the French Church of San Luigi dei Francesi, that hosts three wonderful masterpieces of Caravaggio dedicated to the figure of Saint Matthew.

It's the Contarelli Chapel, dedicated to French cardinal Matthieu Cointerel, and featuring The Calling of Saint Matthew, The Martyrdom of Saint Matthew and, in the middle, the famous The Inspiration of Saint Matthew.

In the vicinity of the Church was the art shop and residence of Costantino Spata, an art dealer and one of the few friends that Caravaggio managed to get once he arrived in Rome.
It's said that Del Monte got interested in Caravaggio because he noticed The Cardsharps and the Fortune Teller exhibited by Spata.
The original location of the shop of Costantino in the square is recognizable by the presence of a Madonnella, a votive portrait of Virgin Mary.

The next stop is the Church of Sant'Agostino, that features an interesting rendition of Virgin Mary by our Caravaggio:

Located in a vivacious zone in Rome thanks to the market in Piazza Navona and the docks of Porto di Ripetta, getting to paint something in this Church recently restored together with the area around was a huge hit.
Following the wishes of Ermete Cavalletti, his family chapel was decorated with this huge painting portraying The Madonna of the Pilgrims, a depiction that caused some big ruckus among the audience.

Getting into the tiny roads of the quarter, we would reach Piazza Firenze:
This is where Caravaggio destroyed his Roman happiness by killing Ranuccio Tommasoni.
After this homicide, Caravaggio would be sentenced to death and he would never return again in Rome.
It's unclear why the two groups had a fight in the first place, it's said that it developed during a match of pallacorda, but the presence among Caravaggio's teammates of some famous delinquent made it clear that the act was pretty much premeditated...

It's fun to notice that many places around the area show references to this fact:

--On a side note, the restaurant above was closed when I happened around here, but it looks quite the nice place!

Going back in time, this is the time for an interesting bit of our tour-- Recent studies, in fact, managed to find the residence where Caravaggio stayed after he left Palazzo Madama, from 1604 to 1605:

The owner of the building was Laerzio Cherubini, commissioner of the Death of the Virgin, but the landlady was a certain Prudenzia Bruni, who signed the contract with Caravaggio.
We got to find this house because of some records were Caravaggio requested the authorization to "expose half the hall" to grant himself an intriguing light source for his paintings, and that he would have covered the expenses to fix everything once he would have left.
Caravaggio lived here together with his assistant and errand boy, Francesco.

Keeping onwards, we would get a touch of Caravaggio's "dangerous life" by approaching the zone once called "The Morass", where bandits and prostitutes were at home.

In Via di Monte D'Oro were two doors used to regulate the access to the prostitution area.
Around the same zone, by the church of San Carlo al Corso was said to be the house of one of Caravaggio's famous lovers, the prostitute Maddalena Antognetti, nicknamed Lena.
It's said that Caravaggio used Lena as his favourite model for many of his paintings-- The above mentioned Madonna of the Pilgrims and the Madonna dei Palafrenieri are some illustrious examples.

But other prostitutes used to pose for Caravaggio.
Fillide Melandroni, the lover of Ranuccio, is the woman portrayed in Portrait of a Courtesan and her friend Anna Bianchini gave her features to Penitent Magdalene and to the Mary of Rest on the Flight to Egypt.

I kept on walking along Via del Corso, trying to imagine how it looked the Rome of back then, seeing traces of adventures and corruption, a mix of dirt and sanctity, just as in those fateful ages--

It's not such a far walk, and we reach Piazza del Popolo with its church of Santa Maria del Popolo:

This is the last stop of our walk and a chance to take a peek at another series of wonderful masterpieces, this time preserved in the Cerasi Chapel, dedicated to Monsignor Tiberio Cerasi.
Here you can find the magnificent Crucifixion of Saint Peter and the Conversion of Saint Paul.

As an extra, you could go to spot the various prisons that Caravaggio got to visit because of his terrible character and bad habits.
Besides fighting with everyone for whatever reason, in fact, he was used to go aroud armed, something that was forbidden but for knights, soldiers or policemen.

The Prisons of Tor di Nonawas once located on this bank of the Tiber.

Caravaggio went there around a thousand times, but he always managed to be freed because he just needed to name any of his commissioners to be instantly pardoned.
I can figure the ears of Cardinal Del Monte constantly ringing by then..!

Another due stop is the old location of the Prisons of Savella: they were placed by the building now occupied by the English College, and they are infamous for the unjust execution of the young Beatrice Cenci:

The event of Beatrice's execution left a deep scar in the memory of Caravaggio and his contemporaries.

Both prisons were destroyed and removed from the city in 1652 by Pope Innocent III, who constituted the Carceri Nuove ("New Prisons") in their place, now seat of the Museum of Criminality.

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