Eight photographic reinterpretations that maintain the dimensions, light and composition of Caravaggio's paintings: a study on the objects, symbols and topics of our society that starts from the analysis of the Master's works. The works were created with the plate optical bench and printed on Hahnemühle Baryta Fine Art paper after a scan but without the aid of any digital post production. In collaboration with Giacomo Pietrapiana and Annegriet Camilla Spoerndle.
The question may seem incongruous, but the dangerous brutality of the answers that flock every day forces us to face it explicitly. The most widespread of these answers is also the most bleak: Caravaggio serves to entertain and amuse. And that makes him a marketing champion.
With Leonardo, Michelangelo and a few other giants, Caravaggio shares, in fact, the power to magnetically attract the masses of the faithful of the Art. Any event that has its name in the title (no matter how illegally) is a bargain, and therefore for decades specious exhibitions, non-existent 'discoveries', improbable attributions, media events have multiplied. The phenomenon does not concern Caravaggio only: in the Italian public discourse the history of art has undergone a genetic mutation that has transformed it from critical knowledge and an instrument of moral redemption, cultural liberation and human growth, into a flourishing sector of industry. of 'cultural' entertainment, and therefore in a factor of alienation, of intellectual regression and of programmatic blunting of the critical sense.
Fortunately, another answer is still possible: Caravaggio serves our inner life, our soul, our intellectual and moral growth. It is a less obvious and more inaccessible answer, and therefore much less frequented. In fact, it implies a personal effort made up of reading, travel and reflections, and leads to a path of training and education that is not limited to a distracted walk in the corridors of the last exhibition. The history of art as a scientific discipline serves exactly to make that path possible: that is, to ensure that the works of art that have survived their time, and live in ours, do not become mute, but continue to talk to us, to provoke us, to educate us, to form our humanity and our culture. The work of art historians basically consists in making possible a sort of resurrection of the past. Their research aims to make that fabric of intentions, functions, relationships and meanings that welcomed the birth, acceptance and understanding of works of art alive and knowable again.
And this happens on the most diverse levels, from the knowledge of the style to the investigation of the contents, from the reconstruction of the client's motives to the recovery of the ancient critical reception of the works, and so on. If we want Caravaggio to be alive and active for us we must know how to reweave (as much as possible) the weft and the warp of his days: and the more this reweaving is capillary, the more vital it will be for us the art of Caravaggio. But art historians know that all of this is not enough. Francis Haskell (who was among the most ardent apostles of a past three hundred and sixty-degree resurrection) wrote that "in order to keep our relationships with the old masters alive and functioning, it is ultimately necessary to force them." In other words, what is really essential (how difficult) is to keep the philological reconstruction of the past in balance with the actualization (perhaps violent, and in any case necessarily arbitrary) of the works that come from that past.
And in this delicate operation the artists have the most important role. It has always been like this: it is with the eyes of living art that we have always looked at the figurative tradition, and this selective gaze has led, from time to time, to the loss or resurrection of entire periods of our figurative tradition. The young Roberto Longhi who sets out to rediscover Caravaggio thanks to the Courbet retrospective offered him by the Venice Biennale of 1910, represents this fascinating paradigm in a classic way. And, on the other hand, if today we feel Diego Velázquez's painting alive and dramatically current, we owe it to a not inconsiderable extent to Francis Bacon's obsessive and penetrating reinterpretation of his Innocent X. Naturally, the gaze of the art historian is profoundly different from that of the artist: and what benefits the wider public is precisely the tension that separates and at the same time unites these two historical perspectives.
This is why, as an art historian who deals with the seventeenth century, I was enchanted by the intelligence and sensitivity of the gaze of Giuseppe Zanoni, Giacomo Pietrapiana and Annegriet Camilla Spoerndle on the work of Caravaggio. The eyes of young artists are lent to us so that we can look at Caravaggio's works with a depth and empathy that our eyes, worn out by habit and trapped in marketing, seem to have lost. Nor is it a naive look. The choice of the photographic medium speaks above all of the desire to 'read' Caravaggio according to his own principles.
The authors chose a small group of Caravaggesque works (those that spoke most to their sensibility) and tried to reproduce them in photographs printed in identical dimensions to their respective models: but, even before that, to transcribe them in a new mental and formal language. In doing this, they have given themselves a rule that appears to be a precise choice of field: to renounce the infinite possibilities of digital photography, and the virtuous 'tricks' of computer post-production. And this means that what we see today existed, literally identical, in their study. Not only the compositions, the poses of the models and the objects: but also the incidence of light, the shadows of the draperies, the chromatic gradations.
And it is precisely for this reason that these works do not have a Pop or New Dada flavor: that is, there are no objectifying or alienating serializations of the Caravaggesque originals. Nor is there the (however ingenious) staging atmosphere that permeates the living paintings of Derek Jarman's film, or the pathetic breath of visual hyperrealism with which Bill Viola has dialogued with other works of the high figurative tradition. If a precedent were to be evoked, the neorealist Pasolini of Ricotta would rather come to mind.
The thing that most impresses in these works is the ability to reveal one's genesis through a perfectly closed formal structure, and indeed as if enameled. Describing Caravaggio's repentant Magdalene, Giovan Pietro Bellori wrote (in 1672) that: «Michele [...] painted a girl sitting on a chair with her hands in her bosom, in the act of drying her hair, he portrayed her in a room, and adding to the ground a pot of ointments, with jewels and gems, he pretended it for Magdalene ». If one has to describe a 'story without action' - a frame - Bellori seems to say, one can only describe its figurative genesis, thus going to the heart of the problem.
That works of art speak of themselves and of their birth, that is, that they represent, more or less transparently, the material and intellectual situation of their creation, is a typical phenomenon of modern art (from Goya to Manet, from Courbet to Picasso), and whose origins we are used to associate with some famous paintings by Velázquez (such as Las Meninas) or by Vermeer (L'atelier). But all this exists in a nutshell in the works of Velázquez and Vermeer's 'father': Caravaggio. Bacchus or, in fact, the repentant Magdalene, do not hide, but explain and narrate their genesis in detail. And the real protagonist is the artist's studio, with its models, its props, its carefully oriented light. The artist, in an auroral but decisive way, enters the picture: he will never leave it again. Here, these photographs speak of their creation in not distant terms: and it is precisely in this - even more than in the direct transcription of individual Caravaggesque texts - that we feel the ability to read, formally and morally, Caravaggio.
But what do these works mean? What is the meaning of each variant? Is this a comment to Caravaggio? Is it an actualization, a dialogue, a negation? Each spectator will be able to try to find their own answers, noting sometimes very penetrating internal references, as in the case of the Supper at Emmaus, which returns to being a table of players, explaining the genre root of Caravaggio's sacred painting, and indeed the same dejection of the boundaries between genres: that is to say the most enduring core of the Caravaggesque revolution. However, one of the merits of these works is that they retain the same ambiguity as the works they inspire: in front of them we feel the same embarrassment and the same uncertainty that we feel in front of the prototypes. These photographs do not want to 'explain', let alone translate or conceptualize, Caravaggio: they want to try to know, and even to speak, his language. A formal, non-conceptual language.
It is a question of speaking with Caravaggio, rather than of Caravaggio: and it is not infrequently a much more delicate and profound dialogue than that of which art historians are capable. Faced with these works, one feels that something can still be saved from the universal nullification of marketing: despite the chaos, it is still possible to hear Caravaggio.
Feel it alive.
Prof. Tomaso Montanari
Basket of fruit: instead of a basket of fruit, a TV turned off. Embarrassed and incredulous of the trash it has to convey, the media box prefers to stay off and turn into a still life. Suffering in silence and sick from an immense deficiency of intellectual vitamins.
Lute player: a young man unable to communicate with the outside world. Not even with the help of his metaphysical lute. It is full of projects that it would like to see realized out there but cannot jump over its own shadow - for internal and external reasons - it remains in its own, dark universe.
Judith and Holofernes: Judith kills her father Holofernes with the help of her nanny. A girl who grew up in an upper-middle-class idyll but with a serious problem of family violence. Murder (in the company of the only person she trusts and loves) is the only way for Giuditta to take revenge. The facade of the apparent "happy family" collapses.
Supper at Emmaus: we are in a den where a group of mafiosi plays "Monopoly", investing in drugs, trafficking in prostitutes and weapons and in new properties. Always ready to escape, their dirty affairs are always observed by the camera (former fruit basket). From under the table, hidden in the manner of Vincenzo Peruggia, Caravaggio's “The Nativity” emerges. This painting stolen in 1969 by the Sicilian mafia in Palermo is probably always in the possession of the Bontade Clan. But the die has not yet been rolled.
Love Winner: feathers in one hand, instead of angel wings, a condom instead of total nudity. The Winning Love of our time is a Cupid who is not capable of living desire, affection and above all erotic love. With sexually transmitted diseases such as AIDS or syphilis, physical love takes on a Christian dimension: "love your neighbor as much as yourself" and practice safer sex.
Madonna of the Pilgrims: after a pilgrimage in search of work, two recent graduates with specializations, masters, computer, linguistic and intercultural knowledge on their shoulders, are kneeling in front of a dishwasher. Highly skilled, but extremely underpaid, they are part of the “1000 Euro” generation and end up asking a simple job from a peer of the same age. De-qualification and declassification are their sacrifices.
Portrait of Antonio Martelli: the contemporary Knight of Malta presents himself not with a clean robe but with a stain of mayonnaise on his jacket. Armed with Montblanc and Moleskin, he will decide in a few moments the future of the artist on duty. It is the day of judgment. Will it be top or flop? Ok, but the vernissage buffet was really delicious ... ..
Narcissus: Narcissus is reflected in a dirty black puddle. Full of heroic ideals he had left for the Middle East. But the more time passes, the less her face is reflected. His identity fades. Eventually it disappears completely. Mission impossible.
Concept: Giuseppe Zanoni | Project: Giuseppe Zanoni, Giacomo Pietrapiana, Annegriet Camilla Spoerndle