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Caravaggio: The Final Years

15/01/2005, By

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This will be the first significant exhibition to be held in the UK of the late paintings of Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (1571-1610), the most original and influential Italian painter of the 17th century, and a modern icon. The exhibition will trace the final four years of Caravaggio’s career and will include 15 major paintings by the artist. These works, which are far less known than those of his Roman years will allow Caravaggio’s profound late style to be fully appreciated for the first time.

The intensity of Caravaggio’s art was matched by the passion with which he lived life. Hot headed and quick to defend his honour, Caravaggio was a violent man and on 28 May 1606, at the height of his popularity, he killed an adversary in a duel. Under threat of capital punishment he fled Rome, never to return.

In the remaining four years of his life, Caravaggio travelled restlessly to Naples, Malta and Sicily before his mysterious and untimely death in the summer of 1610, while on his way back to Rome with the promise of a papal pardon.

The exhibition will begin with the National Gallery’s Supper at Emmaus, painted in 1601, which will be shown alongside the haunting rendition of the same subject from the Brera Gallery, Milan, made in 1606, just after the artist fled Rome. This comparison will forcefully demonstrate how Caravaggio’s bold, youthful theatricality was transformed into the more sober, hushed, and emotionally expressive mood of his later work. Following his escape from Rome, his art quickly matured and became more introspective as he probed the emotional and psychological dimensions of his subjects more profoundly and with greater sympathy than ever before.

Included will be the monumental Flagellation (Naples, Museo di Capodimonte), the Sleeping Cupid; (Florence, Galleria Palatina), in which Caravaggio treats this classic theme with unnerving naturalism; Portrait of a Knight of Malta (Florence, Palazzo Pitti), the Annunciation (Nancy, Musée des Beaux Arts), and the Crucifixion of St Andrew (Cleveland Museum of Art).

The exhibition will also feature one of Caravaggio’s most heartfelt paintings, The Adoration of the Shepherds (Messina, Galleria Regionale), never lent outside Italy before.

Caravaggio revolutionised the art of his time by shunning the prevailing standard of ideal beauty in favour of compelling realism that shocked and moved his audiences. In his pictures, old stories seem contemporary because he employed ordinary people as models and captured gestures and expressions that still seem familiar. Using dramatic lighting with great expressive force, Caravaggio gave his paintings a truly remarkable sense of actuality that continues to engage and astonish.

The intense pressure of these years led Caravaggio to develop a premature ‘late’ style. Although he was only in his thirties, these works find parallel in the paintings produced by Titian and Rembrandt in old age. The exhibition will end with The Martyrdom of Saint Ursula, (Naples, Banca Intesa) the last picture Caravaggio painted before his early death. Today Caravaggio is celebrated as the first great realist and a prototype of the rebellious, tormented genius in literature, film, philosophy, psychoanalysis, criticism and journalism.

The exhibition has been organized by the Soprintendenza per il Polo Museale, Naples, in collaboration with the National Gallery, London. The National Gallery is extremely grateful for the support this exhibition has received from the American Friends of the National Gallery as a result of a generous grant from Howard and Roberta Ahmanson.

The exhibition is accompanied by a fully-illustrated catalogue by leading Caravaggio scholars priced £25 paperback and £40 hardback.

Caravaggio: The Final Years is being held in The Sainsbury Wing at The National Gallery from 23rd of February to 22nd May. Due to the popularity of the exhibition there will be timed-ticket entry; they recommend booking in advance to ensure that your visit is on the date and at the time of your choice.

Standard Tickets: £7.50 Full price, £6.50 Senior/Concession, £3 Students/Unemployed/12 - 18s, Under 12s FREE
Season Tickets: £19 Full price, £16 Senior/Concessions, £8 Students/Unemployed/12 - 18s
Families: Family ticket £15 (2 adults and up to 4 children aged 12 - 18). To book call +44 (0)870 906 3891 (with booking fee)
Groups: For bookings of groups of 12 people or more, please telephone Groups on 020 7014 8444 (no booking fee)

You can buy tickets Online.

Image 1: Portrait of a Knight of Malta, 1608, © Galleria Palatina, Palazzo Pitti, Florence, Photo: SCALA, Florence - licensed by the Ministero per i Beni e le Attività Culturali
Image 2: Salome receives the head of Saint John the Baptist, 1607-10, © The National Gallery, London
Image 3: The Supper at Emmaus, Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan, © 1990, Photo SCALA, Florence - licensed by the Ministero per i Beni e le Attività Culturali
Image 4: The Crucifixion of Saint Andrew, 1609-10, The Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland, Ohio, Leonard C. Hanna, Jr. Fund, 1976, © The Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland, Ohio
Image 5: Salome with the head of Saint John the Baptist, 1607, © Patrimonio Nacional, Royal Palace Madrid

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