The Life and Work of Caravaggio: A Four-Part Course with Dr. Sara Magister

The Life and Work of Caravaggio: A Four-Part Course with Dr. Sara Magister


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This four-part course explores the life and works of Caravaggio. Early Baroque painter, Michelangelo Merisi (1573-1610), better known as Caravaggio, left an indelible mark on the world of art—especially in Rome, which fortunately contains a large selection of his works. In this course, we’ll discuss the life of the Caravaggio, how he got from Milan to Rome, and the subsequent creation of his St. Matthew series. We’ll trace Caravaggio’s final years in Rome, between the peak of his success and the darkness of his life. The fake and the truth of his rejected public works and his amazing Madonnas, Saints, and Judith. We’ll conclude the course with his flight to southern Italy and the commissions that awaited him in Naples.

Led by art historian, professor and published Caravaggio author Sara Magister, this interactive discussion will unpick Caravaggio’s St. Matthew’s paintings. Designed to inform curiosity as well as future travels, participants will come away with a better understanding of this formidable figure and the importance of his works still today.

Lecture 1: The Early Years

We’ll explore the cultural and artistic context in which the artist trained, grew up, and traveled, before his arrival in Rome in 1595. We’ll discuss his first uncertain steps in Rome and the sudden manifestation of his unique talent in interpreting allegorical and religious subjects. We’ll talk about the challenging patronage of the cardinal del Monte that permitted Caravaggio to develop and to compete with more subjects: music, gamblers, gypsies, ancient myths, still lives, and triumphal saints. We’ll examine paintings that move between the sacred and the profane, discussing their beauty and hidden meanings in this celebrated artist’s first years in the art world.

Lecture 2: St. Matthew

We’ll virtually explore the Church of St. Louis of the French in Rome, which contains three of Caravaggio’s paintings. We’ll discuss in depth the three canvases (The Calling of Saint Matthew, The Inspiration of Saint Matthew, and the Martyrdom of Saint Matthew) which detail the life of said Saint and are found in the Church of St. Louis of the French. We’ll also spend some time discussing the deeper meaning in the artworks, looking beyond standard interpretations of the canvases.

Lecture 3: The Darker Years

We’ll visit the Roman galleries to view paintings that he made for important aristocrats and cardinals, focusing mainly on the biblical subjects of Judith, Jerome, and St John the Baptist. We’ll then discuss his other Roman amazing public canvas, such as the Cerasi’s canvas, the Deposition of Christ in the Sepulcher, and the Madonnas, distinguishing truth from false in the rumors about their rejections and exploring their deeper meaning. We’ll evaluate the reasons and consequences on the life of an artist who made many human mistakes yet never failed when creating art.

Lecture 4: Caravaggio’s Flight

We’ll learn that dark times can give rise to artistic masterpieces, as some of Caravaggio’s best works were made while fleeing from papal justice, traveling between Naples, Sicily, and the Island of Malta. Beginning in Naples, we will discover how many people were already waiting for him to commission him for large public canvases or private artworks. Along this journey, we’ll discuss the depth of the meaning of engaging masterpieces such as the Seven Acts of Mercy and the Flagellation of Christ.

Sara is an art historian with doctoral degrees in Medieval and Modern Art History and Classical Antiquities. She is the author of a book, published by the Accademia dei Lincei, on the antiquities collection of Pope Julius II and has written various articles in important scholarly journals on the history of Renaissance and Baroque collections. More recently, she had published a book on some of the most famous paintings of Caravaggio in Rome which introduces a new interpretation of the works, based on philological data, and which is changing the way we look at this artist.

How does it work?

This is a four-part series held weekly and hosted on Zoom. Please check the schedule for the specific dates and times for each lecture.

Is there a reading list in advance?

Though the course is open to participants with no background in art history, there are suggested readings for further investigation. You will receive this soon after course registration.

How long are the lectures?

Each lecture is 90 minutes long with time for Q&A.

How much is the course?

The course is $140 for 4 lectures.

Is a recording available?

In general, our courses are not recorded. However, if you need to miss a lecture please let us know in advance and we can arrange for a recording for that session on an individual basis.

This course is suitable for all ages

90 minutes, including a 30 minute Q&A.

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