Rome is wealthy with works by Caravaggio of course--no surprise, given that he spent the majority of his artistic career in the city. The museums of the city are replete with his work, but museums all charge admission fees. On previous visits to the city I had already seen the wonderful works in the Galleria Borghese (The Sick Bacchus and David with the Head of Goliath are two favorites there) and Galleria Pamphilij (a less-visited but fabulous family-owned palace-museum that owns the non-pariel Rest on the Flight into Egypt and the Penitent Magdalene). I have yet to visit the Palazzo Barberini, which holds several, but certainly hope to do so one of these days. The works there by Caravaggio I'd most like to see include the famous Judith Beheading Holofernes.
|Basilica of Sta Maria del Popolo (r) and Porta del Popolo (l), Rome.|
The first destination was the
|Church of San Luigi dei Francesi, Rome|
|"Calling of St. Matthew," ca 1599|
|"Martyrdom of St. Matthew," ca 1599|
|"Inspiration of St. Matthew, " 1602|
Alas, today the chapel is so dark that one has to feed a light metering device to illuminate the three paintings for a minute or two at a time, so the wise visitor comes with a pocket full of Euros.
After using up my pocket change I regretfully left the San Luigi, just east of the Piazza Navona's north end, and headed to the Piazza del Popolo, a mile or so away. Most of central Rome is amenable to the pedestrian, so it was no trouble. I managed the walk in perhaps 20 minutes along the cobbled Roman streets. The Piazza del Popolo is a giant plaza at the northern end of the Via del Corso, the busy street running south to the Capitoline hill. At it's northern edge is the Porta del Popolo, once a city gate. The Piazza is quite large and heavily used most of the time by vehicles and people. Just to the east is the Pincian Hill and further east the big park-like Villa Borghese where the Galleria Borghese sits in its singular splendor.
The Basilica of Santa Maria del Popolo (pictured above, from across the Piazza) occupies a site just beside the Porta. The Basilica being adjacent to the Porta meant that for travelers, most of whom came from that direction, this was the first church they encountered in Rome, making this an important Christian place for at least a millennium, likely longer but
|"Crucifixion of St. Peter," 1601|
In the Crucifixion of St. Peter, he shows us the moment of the disciple's crucifixion. Peter is being raised into an inverted position, as the story of the saint says. Three men are working to raise the cross, one using his back beneath, another using a rope. Peter stares out of the picture, seemingly toward the altar of the chapel. Perhaps the oddest element of the picture, for me, is the enormous bum of the crouching man under the cross, intruding (and protruding) onto the viewer. Yet somehow it works. Caravaggio's use of light and dark and how he makes the skin tones glow are without peer. The other painting in the chapel, the Conversion on the Way to Damascus, is fine as well, showing Saul on his back, having been
|"The Conversion of St. Paul," 1601|
Once I had visited these final two of my five Caravaggios, I rewarded myself with an espresso and a chocolate gelato in a sidewalk cafe across the plaza. It had been a fine afternoon, indeed.