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Check Out Our Baroque Art: Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio Essay

Baroque art is a scientific concept applied to the artistic tradition (in art and architecture respectively) developed in Italy by the beginning of the XVII century. There are several versions of derivation of the term. According to the first one, the word was derived from a medieval philosophical term, which has “ridiculous” or “strange” in connotation. According to the other one, the word ‘baroque’ is said to be the derivative from Portuguese “barocco”, or its Spanish form “barueco”, which mean a pearl of irregular shape.

The state of art is determined by socio-historical background. The change of epochs is the result of prolonged pressure on social life, which is usually remarked by crisis and collapse of political system, scientific principles and artistic perspective that have run its course. Formation of the world’s greatest powers and their colonies signalized the eve of the XVII century. Absolute monarchies plucked their strength. Catholic Church proved its authority – XVII-XVIII centuries were the times of flowering of the feudal that the Church was. Little by little, the white spots of the map were spanned.

Wave theory is applicable to any sphere of empirical knowledge. So, it is legitimate when regarding theory of art. Baroque art is considered to be non-rational, intuitive romantic epoch. Oriental springs of creative activity, refinement and vagrancy of images, fancifulness and sophisticated forms are the characteristic features of Baroque. The era of Baroque was the time of the Mae, i.e. golden age of painting. As the artistic method and the artistic device, Baroque has delivered its own expressive means and technique. Mostly because Baroque is considered to be visual art, although as far as music and literature are concerned, one may say that they are phenomenal as well (Picturalissime 1992 – 2005).

The ideal of the identity of a baroque artist is demiurge. The most vivid example is the personality of Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio. Secular motives and antique mythology, genre painting and scriptural motives deprived of allegory, which was characteristic to mannerism and academism, were the key notes as to the creative manner of Caravaggio. His characters were not idealised. The artist interpreted religious subjects in the context of individual intimate-psychological perception. Unique brushwork and hard color scheme, dark background, sedate figures were traditional, almost a tribute to classics of fine arts. Though an aspiration to catch an emotion and to commit it to canvas is noticeable (Young Sick Bacchus or The Self-Portrait as Bacchus (1593-1594), A boy bitten by a lizard 1594-1595, Gorgon (1598-1599), Saint Catherine (c. 1598), Cardsharps (1596) etc.). Caravaggio’s touch is dynamic though he depicted static and monumental figures and scenes (Artist’s works on the motives of the Old Testament and the New Testament such as The Rest on the Flight into Egypt 1597, Judith beheading Holofernes 1598-1599, The Calling of Saint Matthew 1599-1600, The Martydom of Saint Matthew 1599-1600, The Inspiration of Saint Matthew 1602 etc.).

Caravaggio’s masterpiece Martha and Mary Magdalene is now kept in the gallery of Detroit’s Institute of Art. The artist created his work circa 1598. The picture is also known as The Conversion of Mary Magdalene. The work is made as an oil and tempera on canvas. Its dimension is 97.8*132.7. The picture shows Martha reproaching Mary for vanity (Institute of Arts).

As far as the gospels are concerned, Martha and Mary were both sisters to Lazarus. The religious theme is treated in a substantially profane manner in Caravaggio’s paintings. Yet, Caravaggio’s aim was to bring religious subjects to secular ones (Institute of Arts).

“The inclusion of Martha with Mary Magdalene and other objects requires the viewer to interpret the symbolism. Martha is seated with her back to the viewer, with only one shoulder and her hands hit by…the light. On the table are a comb, powder puff and mirror, symbols of vanity. Mary points to her chest holding a flower, while her other hand points emphatically to a diamond square of radiant light on the edge of convex mirror” (Schauer 2). The light is an important expressive symbolic tool. Martha’s hands, Mary’s face and chest, the hand and patch of light on the mirror are the spots of light in the picture. Sister Martha’s hands are lit, because she invokes Mary to change. The other point is that Martha may be counting her sister’s sins, or the reasons for Magdalene to convert. Mary answers by pointing precisely to the light on the mirror (Schauer 3). On the other hand, the elegant dress, the ivory comb, the alabaster cosmetic jar recall Mary’s life of indulgence (Artepedia). The mirror is powerful symbol of vanity though it reflects the divine light, the God, that penetrates the soul of Magdalene (Artpedia). Being pensive though, Caravaggio proves the idea of life, repentance, purity and spiritual highness. One can tell it from the look in the eyes of both sisters. The stance of the hands also can tell a lot. And if Mary is hesitating to make the first step, Martha is meek and mild. That is what I think reduces Magdalene’s uncertainty.

“Caravaggio was a masterful storyteller who could bring home the drama and significance of a biblical event with tremendous power…he created a new kind of painting – dramatic, even theatrical, yet grounded in the observation of ordinary reality…”(Artpedia).

Baroque painting is extremely emotive. So were the artists who created at that time. The era of great geographical discoveries, latest celestial explorations stirred up the idea of the world of the whole mankind. It is clear that artists could not remain indifferent to this. The art yet was not influenced so much by science, but this all is about the artistic perception of reality. Fascinating technique could not hide the mental outlook adjacent to tragedy in the rambling life of Caravaggio. Michelangelo da Caravaggio is a bright gloomy star at the sky of Baroque painting. 

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