About the time Caravaggio was painting his masterpieces in Italy, Miguel de Cervantes observed that “Good painters imitate nature. Bad ones spew it up.” Forging seems to me more accurate than imitation. As I researched my Caravaggio novel A NAME IN BLOOD, I realized I had to learn how to paint with oils if I was to describe the maestro at work. Here are some of my re-forgings.
Caravaggio painted his “Sick Bacchus” when he was young and penniless, living what might be described as a sordid “downtown” lifestyle. I love the way he worked with the unhealthy skin and the rheumy eyes in his self-portrait.
This detail from “Death of the Virgin” is important to the story of A NAME IN BLOOD. It features Lena, Caravaggio’s model and, I think, lover. Whereas the big test in “Sick Bacchus” is to depict skin, here it’s cloth and depth of field.
Lena was Caravaggio’s model in the “Madonna with the Serpent.” I painted it a number of times, working and reworking Lena’s face.
Caravaggio’s brushwork became swifter as he went on the run from a death sentence. That’s why the “Raising of Lazarus” he painted in Sicily is so fascinating to me.
One of Caravaggio’s final paintings is the “Martyrdom of St. Ursula.” Bare light emerging from the shadows, his own face cranes to see the arrow pierce the saint’s breast.
St. Ursula’s face is highlighted and shadowed in a way that was surely astonishing to Caravaggio’s contemporaries. It’s in Naples today.
Sadly for Caravaggio he never got to meet these two. It’s a portrait of my wife and son.