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Kimbell's Caravaggio exhibit closes today

Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (Italian, 1571–1610).  Saint John the Baptist in the Wilderness, 1604–5.  Oil on canvas, 68 x 52 in. (172.7 x 132.1 cm).
Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (Italian, 1571–1610). Saint John the Baptist in the Wilderness, 1604–5. Oil on canvas, 68 x 52 in. (172.7 x 132.1 cm).
The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Missouri. Purchase William Rockhill Nelson Trust

Today marks the last day for museum visitors in the Dallas/Fort Worth area to view Caravaggio and His Followers in Rome at the Kimbell Art Museum. This widely popular art exhibit transports visitors back to 17th century Rome to reveal the world of a groundbreaking, controversial artist who would influence and inspire the great masters of European Baroque art. Caravaggio and His Followers in Rome showcases 10 rare paintings by the original Baroque master, Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (1571-1610), juxtaposed with 40 paintings by Peter Paul Rubens, Theodoor Rombouts, and many more. Caravaggio's well-known pieces such as The Cardsharps, (c.1595) and The Musicians, (c.1595) are on display in addition to paintings of youths, fortune tellers, tavern scenes, saints, and religious scenes. Caravaggio and His Followers in Rome is the 3rd U.S. exhibition of Caravaggio paintings to date, and it is the second largest display of Caravaggio paintings in the U.S. The largest exhibition was at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York in 1985. "This exhibition is a rare opportunity to view some of Caravaggio's greatest works alongside those of influential Baroque painters who imitated his style, " commented Eric M. Lee, Director of the Kimbell Art Museum.

The exhibition is organized by the National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa and the Kimbell Art Museum. These art institutions are the only destinations for the show, but museums from all over the world have made the exhibition possible through their European Baroque art loans. Visitors can expect to see pieces from North American institutions such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Philadelphia Museum of Art; National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; The Art Institute of Chicago; and the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Missouri. Visitors will also see works from European institutions such as the National Gallery, London; Musee du Louvre, Paris; Royal Picture Gallery Mauritshuis, the Hague, Netherlands; Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid; Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence; and the Musei Vaticani, Vatican City.

The Caravaggio Method

Caravaggio and His Followers in Rome reveals much about the artist’s style and technique that was thought to be unconventional among other artists of his day. For Saint John the Baptist in the Wilderness, 1604–5, Caravaggio used a live model. The poor and prostitutes often posed for his religious scenes. Caravaggio’s saints were also not depicted with ideal beauty and elevated style. It was common among other artists to paint saints in a lofty style to set them apart from common people. Furthermore, the composition for Saint John the Baptist in the Wilderness, 1604-5, was not worked out through a series of drawings. Caravaggio painted directly on the canvas from beginning to end capturing this figure at close vantage point. His classic dramatic effect is present with the strong light placed on the figure and the contrasting dark background. With such detail and realism, Caravaggio gives the viewer an eye witness account as if the scene was happening in Rome.

The Italian trailblazer

The life of Caravaggio plays out like a current day rags to riches movie of the week with it's drama, defiance, murder, and intrigue. Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio was born in Lombardy, Italy in 1571. It was here that he received training in the realistic traditions and culture of religious reform. In 1592 Caravaggio moved to Rome to work as a painter. The traditional artists of Caravaggio's day drew a line between art and life, but there were no boundaries between art and life according to Caravaggio. His artwork shined the spotlight on the expressive human figure. He depicted the realistic details of everyday life with all of its drama and emotion. The setting of a scene in his paintings was a minor detail. Caravaggio's work was new to the art world of his day. His style had never been painted before, and patrons were shocked when they saw it. Caravaggio ushered in a radical change in European painting. However, the artist was not initially successful as a painter, and he lived in poverty his first few years in Rome. His work soon caught the eye of the most prominent patrons in Rome. He later gained prestigious commissions and became well-known throughout Europe. Italian, French, Spanish, Dutch, and Flemish artists all lived in Rome during this time, and they all admired Caravaggio's artistic talent. Some of these artists followed Caravaggio before creating their own individual painting style. Furthermore, art history shows that not since Michaelangelo or Rapheal has one artist affected such a large number of contemporaries like Caravaggio. The artist continued to paint in Rome until 1606. That year his volatile and violent personality got the best of him resulting in him killing a rival. Caravaggio was forced to flee Rome and spent his remaining days painting in Naples, Malta, and Sicily. The artist died in 1610 at the age of 39.

Caravaggio and His Followers in Rome closes today, January 8, 2012 at the Kimbell Art Museum. For more information visit

by Jeralan Minnick

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