Monday, June 16, 2014


Fortune Teller (La buona ventura) - second version -
oil on canvas
93 × 131 cm
Louvre, Paris, France

For the second version, Caravaggio copied from the first version but with certain changes. The undifferentiated background of the first version becomes a real wall broken by the shadows of a half-drawn curtain and a window sash, and the figures more completely fill the space and defining it in three dimensions. The light is more radiant, and the cloth of the boy's doublet and the girl's sleeves more finely textured. The dupe becomes more childlike and more innocently vulnerable, the girl less wary-looking, leaning in towards him, more in command of the situation.

The Fortune Teller exists in two versions, both by Caravaggio, the first from 1594 (Pinacoteca Capitolina, Rome), the second from 1595 (Louvre, Paris). The painting shows a foppishly-dressed boy (in the second version the model is believed to be Caravaggio's companion, the Sicilian painter Mario Minniti), having his palm read by a gypsy girl.

A foppishly dressed young man, a milksop with no experience of life, gives his right hand to a young girl whose expression is difficult to define, in order to have his future read. His ideas about his future are effectively influenced by the astute young gypsy girl, whose gentle caress in tracing the lines of his hand captivates the handsome young fool so completely that he fails to notice: the girl is removing his ring from his finger as she gently strokes his hand.

Caravaggio's revolutionary impact on his contemporaries - beginning with The Fortune Teller - was to replace the Renaissance theory of art as a didactic fiction with art as the representation of real life.

It is said that Caravaggio picked the gypsy girl out from passers-by on the street in order to demonstrate that he had no need to copy the works of the masters from antiquity: "When he was shown the most famous statues of Phidias and Glykon in order that he might use them as models, his only answer was to point towards a crowd of people saying that nature had given him an abundance of masters." (Caravaggio's biographer Giovanni Pietro Bellori)

The first version aroused considerable interest among younger artists and the more avant garde collectors of Rome, but Caravaggio's poverty forced him to sell it for the low sum of eight scudi. It entered the collection of a wealthy banker and connoisseur, the Marchese Vincente Giustiniani, who became an important patron of the artist. Giustiniani's friend, Cardinal Francesco Maria Del Monte, purchased the second version.

Michelangelo Merisi (1571-1610), called later Caravaggio, was born in either Milan, or a town of Caravaggio near Milan, as the son of a ducal architect. He was active in Rome, Naples, Malta, and Sicily. His paintings, which combine a realistic observation of the human state, both physical and emotional, with a dramatic use of lighting, had a formative influence on the Baroque school of painting. Few artists in history have exercised as extraordinary an influence as this tempestuous and short-lived painter. Even in his own lifetime, Caravaggio was considered enigmatic, fascinating, rebellious and dangerous. Caravaggio was destined to turn a large part of European art away from the ideal viewpoint of the Renaissance to the concept that simple reality was of primary importance. Caravaggio was one of the first to paint people as ordinary looking. Almost all of his subjects emphasize sadness, suffering, and death.

Caravaggio, orphaned at age 11, trained as a painter in Milan under Peterzano who had himself trained under Titian. In his early twenties he moved to Rome where many huge new churches and palazzi were being built and paintings were needed to fill them. During the Counter-Reformation, the Roman Catholic Church searched for religious art with which to counter the threat of Protestantism, and for this task the artificial conventions of Mannerism, which had ruled art for almost a century, no longer seemed adequate.

Caravaggio's novelty was a radical naturalism that combined close physical observation with a dramatic, even theatrical, use of chiaroscuro. This came to be known as Tenebrism, the shift from light to dark with little intermediate value. He burst upon the Rome art scene in 1600 with the success of his first public commissioned artwork. Thereafter Caravaggio never lacked commissions or patrons, yet he handled his success poorly. Since 1600, because of his violent temper Caravaggio was constantly in trouble with the law and was regularly mentioned in police records, under accusations of assault, libel and other crimes. "after a fortnight's work he will swagger about for a month or two with a sword at his side and a servant following him, from one ball-court to the next, ever ready to engage in a fight or an argument, so that it is most awkward to get along with him." (An early published notice on him, dating from 1604 and describing his lifestyle three years previously) Caravaggio was jailed on several occasions and ultimately had a death warrant issued for him by the Pope, when he became involved in killing a young man in a brawl in 1606. He fled from Rome finding refuge with a price on his head. He was involved in a brawl in Malta in 1608 again, and another in Naples in 1609, possibly a deliberate attempt on his life by unidentified enemies. This encounter left him severely injured. A year later, at the age of 38, he died under mysterious circumstances in Porto Ercole, reportedly from a fever while on his way to Rome to receive a pardon from the Pope.

Famous while he lived, Caravaggio was forgotten almost immediately after his death, and it was only in the 20th century that his importance to the development of Western art was rediscovered. Despite this, his influence on the new Baroque style was profound. It can be seen directly or indirectly in the work of Rubens, Bernini, and Rembrandt, and artists in the following generation. Heavily under his influence were called the "Caravaggisti" or "Caravagesques".
"What begins in the work of Caravaggio is, quite simply, modern painting." (Andre Berne-Joffroy)