"This blog is not necessarily for lovers of art, it includes a variety of topics and whatever. I'm a painter who likes to know what's really going on in the world today. So you might find anything from Shamrocks to Salmiakki mentioned here on my blog. There will of course be some boring, factual and informational posts, but I'll keep them to a minimum, I promise!

And I might get a bit nostalgic now and then.

So you have been warned!"

- Alan Hogan

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Caravaggio - The Taking and Faking of Christ!

September 29th 1571 is supposedly the birthday of Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, better known as simply 'Caravaggio' to most of us. When I was younger living back in Ireland this artist was one of many famous artists mentioned in my art history schoolbook. The Baroque school of painting to which his art belonged wasn't very interesting to me. I suppose I could have been in such awe of the work by the likes of Caravaggio and his counterparts that it made me feel quite primitive. Or perhaps if was the fact that there was so much of this style and it's copycats available to see all over europe. 

One such place I remember seeing art like this was in the old buildings at the school I attended as a teenager. Studying at a Christian Brothers school for boys back in Dublin wasn't always easy. Most of the subjects in these paintings were quite religious and orderly, as were the Christian brothers themselves, whose treatment and teaching methods of many students was disciplined and occasionally harsh. So as you might guess, the day I finished secondary school was a day I remember fondly! I didn't have to see those priests in their black cloaks ever again. I must mention that a few of them were of good character, friendly and excellent teachers. But I was happy to forget about them and all their paraphernalia, including all those religious paintings!

Having left school in 1986, I was more drawn towards modern artists like Munch, Van Gogh, and Jack B Yeats. I liked the honesty and techniques in all their work. I have however since then witnessed a lot more older art including the baroque era by way of travelling through countries such as Germany, Holland, Austria and France. I have sadly not been able to visit Italy yet, the home of baroque. Maybe some day when I have some cash!

Inside St.Charles's Church, Vienna. 

My appreciation for baroque art improved after travelling in europe. I remember a visit to Vienna and been amazed and a little shocked on entering St.Charles's Church. The whole feeling was awesome, a term which I think is used far too lightly these days.

'The Taking of Christ' - Caravaggio, 1602

Getting back to the birthday boy, I remember the time in the early 1990's when Caravaggio's painting 'The Taking of Christ' was found in a dusty old house in Dublin city centre. This was a major discovery once the painting was confirmed as the original, especially with the amount of previous findings which all turned out to be fakes. I couldn't believe the age and the history of this painting. I was more amazed at the fact that it had survived years and years of lying around in Dublin than it's previous centuries of transit here and there around europe. Those of you who live or come from Dublin will understand what I'm talking about! I recall seeing a movie in the year 2000, seven years after Caravaggio's painting was unveiled at the National Gallery of Ireland. It was called 'Ordinary Decent Criminal' starring Kevin Spacey, about a well-known Dublin criminal. It was a poor movie by all accounts (I recommend Brendan Gleeson's portrayal of the same character in the earlier movie 'The General', much better!). However I liked the way they included Caravaggio's painting in the story, it's like modern folklore. 

There are many other blogs, videos and websites which can tell you all about the painting and it's history, so I won't bother rewriting it here. Here's an excellent video to watch if you have the time and a few links if you wish to get all the facts. I've also included a related and amusing  blog which tells about the theft of this painting by professional robbers in the Ukraine. Unfortunately they became the not-so-proud owners of yet another fake Caravaggio.

'Stealing Caravaggio: The Odessa File'

'Milan show for disputed Caravaggio'

I would like to mention my recollection on being one of the first group of visitors to see this rediscovered masterpiece at the National Gallery of Ireland in Dublin. I felt very privileged and excited on that day in November 1993 as I walked into the gallery. Seeing something so old is sometimes a little mind-numbing, and when you learn all about it's history and know the subject to be so revered it can simply leave you speechless.

So, there I was walking up a grand staircase to the gallery's main exhibition room. The red carpet was laid out. I pretended it was for me. Well, one can dream a little!! ...and then as I slowly stepped through the large doorframes I said to myself,...."What the hell is all this!"

Yes, right in front of me was a large room full of fake Caravaggios! I must have counted at least twenty or so copies of Caravaggio's 'Taking of Christ'. 
Well, in my opinion, each and every one of them looked like a masterpiece. But then there can only ever be one true original. And there it was, getting closer and closer to me as I walked through the centre of this large room. The nearer I approached, the clearer my eyes could see that this was the genuine article and the others quickly became just what they were, merely good copies.

The restoration people at the gallery had handled and prepared this great original with the treatment it had long deserved, and it was a great credit to them. 
I was however a bit worried about the security of the painting. While I had in my time visited a few renowned galleries in europe and noticed high security for notable paintings, items such as cameras, extra guards-people, glass-framed boxes and possible laser alarms, all I could see protecting Caravaggio's painting was a thick red rope placed half a metre around it. I could see no harm coming to the painting that day, but I worried a little at the thought of an art teacher taking a class of twelve-year old Dublin schoolboys in to see it. I'd like to think I'm wrong and the painting was highly monitored, but I was that twelve-year old soldier once, and it wasn't unusual for me to lampoon about things I didn't understand. I remember going to see the Mona Lisa in Paris with a group of fellow students when I was twelve. I may be exaggerating just a little, but I reckon that old lady was very lucky to be protected by a solid glass case at the time! 

Anyway, Happy Birthday Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, wherever you may be and thanks for all your wonderful work.

Here's another fellow Dubliner who like myself discovered the mastery of Caravaggio and hence a greater appreciation for art in general. He is ex-world snooker champion Ken Doherty and here's what he had to say about the mighty Caravaggio.

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- Alan 



MerisiDa said...

Might have to watch "Ordinary Decent Criminal" now even if its a not so decent movie

Anonymous said...

I'm a big fan of Caravaggio and I have carried out much research on this artist and his work. I enjoyed reading your post. If you want to check out my first post on Caravaggio:

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