Caravaggio: The Evil-doer Whose Work Inspired the Imagery of The Passion

“The only reason anyone knows anything about this guy is from prison records, because he was a wild man, a rabble rouser. But I think his work is beautiful. I mean it’s violent, it’s dark, it’s spiritual and it also has an odd whimsy or strangeness to it. And it’s so real looking. I told Caleb I wanted my movie to look like that and he said, ‘Yeah, OK.’”

– Mel Gibson (FIRST-PERSON: Mel Gibson’s ‘Passion’ for Jesus)

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The Conversion on the Way to Damascus, 1600 (Santa Maria del Popolo, Rome) This is Caravaggio’s dark version of St. Paul’s miraculous conversion on the way to Damascus when Jesus Christ spoke to him: Paul is on his back, partly beneath a peasant horse, which takes up most of the canvas and shows us her rear. The foreshortening of Paul and the horse is exaggerated. Where are the apostle’s companions, and where is the blinding light? For we read in the Acts of the Apostles, that the miracle happened at noon, when suddenly there shone round about him an even greater light from heaven, and the other men stood speechless.

Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (1573–1610) was an Italian painter known for his naturalistic, dark tone paintings, for his use of prostitutes and low life people as his models, and for his scandalous behaviour.

Caravaggio’s Sexual Perversions

Caravaggio was a bisexual pervert, who rose to fame with the help of “Cardinal Francesco del Monte, who was rumored in his lifetime to be homosexual, and who sponsored several of Caravaggio’s more romantic paintings of young men.” (Caravaggio: A Passionate Life, Editorial Reviews)

“Towards the end of the sixteenth century, Cardinal Del-Monte bought Caravaggio’s painting ‘The Cardsharps’, and subsequently invited Caravaggio to join the homosexual menagerie of young musicians and painters that he kept in his mansion. Caravaggio’s homosexual preferences are evident from his paintings, and are known from other independent sources.”(Caravaggio: The Violent Enlightenment)

His Criminal Acts

“In 1600 he was accused of blows by a fellow painter, and the following year he wounded a soldier. In 1603 he was imprisoned on the complaint of another painter and released only through the intercession of the French ambassador. In April 1604 he was accused of throwing a plate of artichokes in the face of a waiter, and in October he was arrested for throwing stones at the Roman Guards. In May 1605 he was seized for misuse of arms, and on July 29 he had to flee Rome for a time because he had wounded a man in defense of his mistress. Within a year, on May 29, 1606, again in Rome, during a furious brawl over a disputed score in a game of tennis, Caravaggio killed one Ranuccio Tomassoni.” (Caravaggio)

After the murder Caravaggio was banished from Rome. He fled to Naples and thence to Malta, where he sought admission to the Maltese Order of St. John. He was knighted, but soon afterward he was expelled from the order and imprisoned for attacking another knight. He escaped from the Maltese jail in October of 1608, and fled to Syracuse in Sicily. In 1609 he fled to Messina, then moved on to Palermo, then again to Naples, where he was attacked and wounded badly. In 1610, on his way back to Rome, he contracted a fever and died on the shore at Port’ Ercole.

“His short fuse and pathological need to seek violence and dispute landed him in trouble all his life. Oftentimes he abused and assaulted his benefactors. Consequently, he was frequently obliged to flee from one place to the other, and even his death was the result of a skirmish… This history of murder, assault and courting of violence would shame many a violent psychopath in a contemporary maximum-security prison.” (Caravaggio: The Violent Enlightenment)

His Blasphemous Work

Supper at Emmaus (detail), 1606 (Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan) Luke (24:13–35) and Mark (16:12–13) tells us that the resurrected Jesus Christ appeared to two of His disciples as they were going from Jerusalem to a village called Emmaus. They recognised him only during the meal, when He took the bread, blessed it, and brake and gave to them. Then He vanished out of their sight. This wonderful story is depicted in dark tones: brown, black and gray. The Jesus figure's face and hands are dirty and there is a strange mark on his forehead, between his eyebrows. The painting was clearly inspired by demons.

Supper at Emmaus (detail), 1606
(Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan)
Luke (24:13–35) and Mark (16:12–13) tells us that the resurrected Jesus Christ appeared to two of His disciples as they were going from Jerusalem to a village called Emmaus. They recognised him only during the meal, when He took the bread, blessed it, and brake and gave to them. Then He vanished out of their sight. This wonderful story is depicted in dark tones: brown, black and gray. The Jesus figure’s face and hands are dirty and there is a strange mark on his forehead, between his eyebrows. The painting was clearly inspired by demons.

Caravaggio’s so-called religious paintings are dark, grotesque with a homo-erotic charge, biblically and historically incorrect, and are the reflections of a tormented soul. Violence, death and murder are the main themes. He painted three beheadings, that of Goliath, St. John the Baptist and Holofernes; he painted the crucifixion of Peter, Matthew, and Jesus Christ, the martyrdom of St. Matthew and St. Ursula, the flagellation and the crowning of Jesus Christ with the crown of thorns, etc.

The background on all his paintings is dark. “He never let some of his characters see the light of the sun but found the means of placing them within the darkness of a closed room,” observes Abbot Giovan Pietro Bellori, one of his main biographers.

His models were prostitutes, low life people, beggar figures, the castrated singer Montoya and his homosexual friend Minitti – this is not realism, this is the degradation of sacred things. Caravaggio frequently inserted self-portraits in his paintings, sometimes in an androgynous style. The same faces turn up repeatedly in his paintings. For example in The Crowning with Thorns at least two of the three men besides the figure of Christ were modeled after the same person.

Lena, a prostitute, one of his favourites, posed for many paintings. She was the model for Mary in the Death of the Virgin (369 x 245 cm) painted for the church of Santa Maria della Scala in Trastevere. In this painting she wears a red dress, which is more common among whores than old ladies, her legs are bare, her body is swollen. All this caused a scandal and the church’s clergy rejected the painting. Lena appeared as Mary in another altar-piece placed in Saint Peter’s Basilica. This painting was removed after a few weeks.

The first version of St Matthew and the Angel, painted for an altar in a church in Rome, was rejected. This painting depicts the apostle in tattered clothing, with dirty feet and visibly illiterate, since an angel – an androgynous figure – guides his hand to write down the Holy Word of God. Later, Caravaggio made another version for the church.

All his “religious”paintings contain unbiblical elements, but it would take a whole book to analyze them. Anyhow, the greatest blasphemy committed by him is the depiction of Jesus Christ as an ordinary human being and as a feminine figure. In the blasphemous Supper at Emmaus Jesus is depicted as a plump, androgynous person in a red robe.

In his time, Caravaggio’s paintings were considered vulgar and heretic. The Church rejected his paintings, but he had protectors in high places. In respect to this, nothing has changed since then.