978-0-312-27474-0 / 9780312274740

M: The Man Who Became Caravaggio





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About the book:

The artist formerly (and usually) known as Caravaggio has been a perennial and fascinating enigma for centuries. Born Michelangelo Merisi in 1571, he took the name Caravaggio from the small town outside Milan in which he lived before moving to Rome in 1592, where he rapidly established himself as one of the most acclaimed but also controversial painters of his time. In Peter Robb's groundbreaking biography of the artist he is simply but elusively M, a shadowy, enigmatic figure who "floats on the surface of a treacherous reality" in the "bitchy" decadent world of Counter-Reformation Rome.

With great style and pace Robb pursues M through the archives, revealing an extraordinary life characterised by "lies to the police, reticence in court, extorted confessions, forced denunciations, revengeful memoirs, self-justifying hindsight, unquestioned hearsay, diplomatic urbanities, theocratic diktat, reported gossip, threats and propaganda, angry outbursts--hardly a word untainted by fear, ignorance, malice or self interest". The result is a magnificent evocation of Caravaggio's paintings and turbulent life set against the backdrop of the politically coercive and decadent world of power-hungry cardinals, rent boys, prostitutes, pimps and painters where "fear and suspicion pervaded the culture". Robb wonderfully evokes this oppressive world, arguing that M's repeated arrests for fighting, libel and ultimately murder, which led to him fleeing Rome, were as much the product of the culture as of the artist's troubled mind. Interwoven within this account are deft and insightful readings of M's paintings from life, which are lavishly reproduced in both colour and black and white. M will undoubtedly outrage art historians and some of its claims are tenuous (such as the dark conspiracy it claims led to M's mysterious death in 1610). Nevertheless, M's yoking together of biography, thriller and detective story is the perfect medium through which to tell the story of Caravaggio's extraordinary life. --Jerry Brotton

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