Biography Helen Langdon Caravaggio: A Life

ISBN 13: 9780374118945

Caravaggio: A Life

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9780374118945: Caravaggio: A Life

Featuring forty-three color reproductions and black-and-white illustrations throughout, a well-crafted biography of Caravaggio--the first in English in two generations--sheds new light on the seventeenth-century Italian painter's dramatic life and astonishing work.

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Review:

Seventeenth-century painter Nicolas Poussin once said that Caravaggio came into the world to destroy painting. Helen Langdon's marvelous biography suggests that rather than destroying painting, the Milanese artist gave it a new lease on life. Upon his arrival in Rome, Caravaggio ended a tradition of Italian Renaissance painting with his radically new naturalistic style, which continues to dazzle and influence viewers today. Beautifully poised between biographical scholarship and artistic appreciation, Langdon's book provides the reader with a complex, fascinating portrait of Caravaggio, still the rebel and outsider of the popular imagination, but also immersed in the Roman world of art, politics, and patronage. Some of the finest sections of the book vividly evoke the streets and brothels of early 17th-century Rome, which provided Caravaggio with the inspiration for many of his early works. By contrast, the later sections--which deal with Caravaggio's exile and commissions in Naples, Malta, and Sicily--seem rather brief and truncated, giving the final third of the book a rather unbalanced feel. This is, however, partly due to the elusiveness of Caravaggio himself--with little direct contemporary documentation on the painter, he often slips into the shadows, evading the scrutiny of even the most persistent biographer.

Langdon's achievement here is to produce a compelling portrait of the artist that throws new light on his paintings. Here is a painter who was proud, difficult, and arrogant, yet highly intellectual in his appreciation of the changing face of both Catholicism and scientific enquiry. Written with great historical clarity, and supplemented by 42 magnificent color illustrations, Helen Langdon's Caravaggio is a worthy contribution to scholarly study of this artist. --Jerry Brotton

About the Author:

Helen Langdon has worked at the National Gallery, the British Museum, and the National Portrait Gallery. She lives in London.

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