978-0-7148-3966-0 / 9780714839660

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About the book:

Catherine Puglisi's magnificent book on Michelangelo Merisi, better known simply as Caravaggio begins with Caravaggio's beguiling self-portrait as Bacchus, painted around 1594 when the artist was in his early twenties. This is then dramatically contrasted with the devastating self-portrait of the artist as the severed head of John the Baptist, painted only 15 years later in 1610, the year of Caravaggio's untimely death. These two pictures frame the incredible career of one of the most brilliant and complex of all Baroque artists, which is comprehensively analysed in Puglisi's wonderful study.

The book moves with great lucidity from Caravaggio's early success in Rome, to his exile in Malta and Sicily and his later astonishing religious paintings, undertaken in the dark years prior to his untimely death. Puglisi argues that Caravaggio was not the socially alienated painter that tradition has assumed, but that his highly innovative work took place within a deeply self-conscious awareness of contemporary developments within the composition of still life, portraiture, and devotional painting. What is so persuasive about Puglisi's argument is that, rather than diminish our sense of Caravaggio's originality, it only heightens our understanding of his brilliance in both composition and the use of light and colour. The final section of the book is particularly compelling in its account of Caravaggio's approach towards the composition of his work, as well as offering perceptive comments on the biographical assumptions which have grown up around the painter.

Throughout, Puglisi's passion for the paintings shines through; the book is beautifully produced, with nearly 200 wonderful illustrations, most in colour, a fascinating appendix of contemporary documents on the painter's life, and a checklist of all of Caravaggio's work. Caravaggio is a splendid book, which is undoubtedly destined to become the standard work in English on one of the greatest painters of Renaissance Italy. --Jerry Brotton

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