From Artemisia to the others: the women of Caravaggio
In collaboration with Italiart
September 11-12, 2021
This year, we would like to dedicate the Caravaggesque conference to the women who had a fundamental role in the life of Michelangelo Merisi, known as Caravaggio, whether they be followers, sponsors, supporters, philosophers, martyrs or lovers of the artist.
The aim is to reveal how influential their feminine contribution was to the final masterpieces of his art.
The themes are very current: Caravaggio repeatedly calls upon us to be silent witnesses to daily violent acts; however, he always manages to offer a glimmer of hope, a bright thread of light that carries the spectator out of the scene.
He identifies grace and mercy in the Virgin Mary, depicted embracing and beguiling with her Son; in the compassion of the Madonna for the pilgrims with dirty feet; in the figure of the Mother Church that kills the serpent of the Madonna dei Palafrenieri; in the respectful grief the bystanders have for the death of the Virgin.
Women are represented one more beautiful than the other: curvy and powerful figures resplendent with elegance, dignified and sublime, unlike those of Michelangelo Buonarroti who gave them beauty by painting them following a more masculine form, with muscles that defined their soft features. Caravaggio’s women are instead very feminine and sensual, but never arousing, always distant and wild, but never cruel. They have a powerful connotation based on ideals of moral and virtue, maintaining a regal dignity in their every-day encounters and working class interactions.
Caravaggio’s art of this period is steeped in that spiritual desire that permeates the first phase of the Counter Reformation; the Agostinian and Franciscan Church, belonging to the humble followers of San Francesco Neri, moulds its image and likeness to the Virgin Mary, creating charity hospitals, shelters for young women who had ended up on the street and refuge for the poor and ill, with a motherly behaviour based on understanding, humility and love.
There is a change in atmosphere after 1600, when the life of the artist progressively takes a turn towards danger and fear: torture, violence, and death run riot through the streets of Rome, Naples and cities in Sicily. The Inquisition and its trials reign supreme, and women as a whole become symbols of endured violence.
But in the undercurrents, in the secret rooms of the courts, women still dominate the scene, supporting science, music and art, inspiring with their beauty superb works of art, overcoming the stage of the executioner’s platform with ideal feelings, weaving the political currents from behind the curtains. The hidden but dominant role of the women is brought to light in this conference, alongside that of the men who were forced to lean on their “feminine” side to renew their lost sensibility and desired a new way to be kinder, more elegant and more respectful towards others.
In memory of Mary Ann Beckinsale