Milan Welcomes Caravaggio – A Review

From late September to the 28th of January 2018, Palazzo Reale in Milan hosts the exhibition Dentro Caravaggio, curated by Rossella Vodret. After more than two months from the opening, the event has solidly become the highlight of the season, with no tickets left to book during the holiday weeks. This extraordinary popularity certainly depends on the bright fame that Caravaggio’s name has gained in the last few decades, after centuries of relative neglect. On the other hand, the show gathers an extraordinary array of pieces from all around the world, thus offering an incomparable insight into the oeuvre of one of the most appreciated Italian Baroque painters. In this regard, Palazzo Reale is confirmed as one of the leading exhibition venues in Milan and Italy, offering a memorable experience for both amateurs and connoisseurs.

Rest on Flight to Egypt (detail) – Caravaggio – 1596-7 – oil on canvas

The setting of the exhibition is minimal and allows the works of Caravaggio to emerge and communicate their full visual charge. The curators made an excellent job in arranging no more than one or two pieces per room, so that the space never gets too crowded despite the significant numbers of visitors. Often, the paintings are set one opposite to another, thus creating interesting dialectic connections. In other cases, the viewer can admire them together in succession from a single point of view, thus witnessing the artist’s developing approach to similar themes and compositions. This is the case, for instance, of the two St John the Baptist, which are placed contiguously. The number of works is considerable, since they are all from Caravaggio himself, but the length of the visit is still manageable and overall very enjoyable.

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Dentro Caravaggio was accompanied by extensive technical analyses of the exhibited pieces. Relevant reflectographies are displayed together with each of them, so as to highlight the artist’s technique and cast a light on the objects’ individual history. In this regard, the curators managed successfully to balance the technical details and keep the explanations accessible to everybody through interactive videos. In this way, the visitor learns about the use of incised lines, which Caravaggio employed instead of traditional drawing because of the dark underlayers of his paintings. They will also discover the many changes that each artwork has undergone before reaching the final status. For example, one of these incised lines on the left sleeve of The Fortune Teller‘s young man has revealed a depiction of the Virgin Mary beneath, that Caravaggio had originally begun painting on the same canvas. In particular, the incision indicates the intended position of the halo, thus suggesting that the format would have been vertical. All in all, the scientific research behind the show is well presented and enriches the visit with an unusual technical contribution.

The Fortune Teller – Caravaggio – 1594 – oil on canvas

The exhibition has brought to Milan one of the most surprising reunions of Caravaggio’s works in the last decades. The pieces have been gathered from all over the world and represent some of the best examples of the master’s oeuvre. In this regard, the show truly emphasises the excellence of the painter’s technique, by highlighting his secrets and revealing the way his artworks were executed. I find especially brilliant the idea of showing the public some of the technical examinations, which reveal the extreme complexity of each painting. This points out that artworks are objects with an individual history and soul, which is the result of layers and layers of time. Dentro Caravaggio allows us to embark on a journey of discovery of some of these paintings’ past lives, providing a powerful experience where the works of art are the true protagonists.

The Sacrifice of Isaac

Rest on Flight to Egypt

St John the Baptist (1303)

St John the Baptist (1304)

The Fortune Teller

Dentro Caravaggio

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Alessandro M. Rubin Written by:

Cambridge History of Art alumnus. Passionate early-modernist, curious about contemporary art and aesthetic theory.

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