For a long time, the religious thematic omnipresent in old Italian art, prevented me from duly appreciating it. In museums and galleries, I would skim over the works of art in order to avoid the growing suffocating sensation. Caravaggio's canvases in particular, intense and sometimes even violent, sort of repelled me.
|Contarelli chapel in the church of Saint Louis of the French, in Rome,|
decorated with canvases by Caravaggio illustrating the life of Saint Matthew.
But, there I was, immobilized in my surprise in front of scenes of Saint Matthew's life painted by Caravaggio. The characters, so alive, did all but jump off the canvases when suddenly lit by Cantarelli chapel's floodlights in the church of Saint Louis of the French in Rome. A contrast with the dimly lit areas of the rest of the church and with the gray and rainy afternoon outside.
|"Vocazione di San Matteo", 1599-1600.|
|"San Matteo e l'angelo", 1602.|
|"Il Martirio di San Matteo", 1600-1601.|
That would be the first of a series of "contacts" I would have with Caravaggio and which would make me increasingly aware and receptive towards the man and the artist he was. After decades of absence, I had arrived in Rome earlier in that day of November 2010, year of the painter's 400th death anniversary, and banners and posters were scattered throughout the city announcing exhibitions and events about his work.
|Francesca Cappelletti, expert in the Italian Barroque.|
Days later, my hostess invited me to an exhibition of the German Renaissance painter Cranach at the Borghese Gallery accompanied by her teacher of History of Art, Francesca Cappelletti. I later learned, she is one of the greatest living specialists in Caravaggio's work.
|A 1602 painting, "La Cattura di Cristo" was commissioned to Caravaggio by Ciriaco Mattei. After having been missing for centuries, it was located in the 90s in Dublin, Ireland, where it is has since been on display in the National Gallery of Ireland.|
Francesca's involvement with Caravaggio started when she, still a student, participated in a cataloguing work of the artist's paintings coordinated by one of her teachers. She could hardly know then that this would eventually turn her into one of the leading characters of the chase for a famous Caravaggio canvas, “The Taking of Christ”, of 1602, which had gone missing in the late 1700s. Finally located in Ireland in the 90s, the painting today is the main work of art on display in the National Gallery of Ireland, in Dublin.
|"The Lost Painting", by Jonathan Harr, was published by Random House in 2005.|
In 2006, the Italian and Brazilian editions came out, respectivelly by Rizzoli and Intrínseca.
A true detective story, it ended up transformed into a best-selling novel, "The Lost Painting", by American writer Jonathan Harr, published in 2005. And it was by giving me the Italian edition of the book that my hostess bid me farewell at the end of my Roman stay.
|In the old Rome city centre, the Isola dei Mattei, a block that in the 16th and 17th|
centuries, gathered several palazzi of that powerful family.
My hostess lives in an apartment in a palazzo located in the isola dei Mattei, a block in the old Rome city centre that gathers several palazzi built between the 16th and the 17th centuries by the Mattei, a then powerful family since the Middle Ages. The palazzo used to be the residence of Ciriaco Mattei who, at the turn of the 16th to the 17th century, was one of the most important arts collectors and benefactors in Rome. Remains of his ancient marbles collection can still be seen in the patio. The days I spent there were impregnated by stories about him and his family, the architecture of his residence visibly reflecting a more sober personality than that of his brother Asdrubale, owner of the neighbouring palazzo, to me, overly decorated.
What was my astonishment then, when I finally read “Il Caravaggio Perduto”, to discover that between 1602 and 1605, sponsored by Ciriaco, Caravaggio lived in the latter's house, accommodated, precisely, on the same floor as me! In that period, he made several paintings commissioned by his patron, there included the lost and then found “The Taking of Christ”. The theme of that painting was suggested to him by another of Ciriaco's brothers, Cardinal Girolamo, who, being single, also lived in his elder brother's home.
Additionaly, this story took on a Brazilian turn. Today, two Brazilian ladies, married to Italians, one of them my hostess, live in Ciriaco's palazzo. On the piano nobile is the magnificent residence of the Brazilian Embassy to the Vatican.
|Book by Francesca Cappelletti, "Caravaggio: un ritratto somigliante",|
published in December 2009 by Mondadori Electa.
In December 2009, Francesca launched her book “Caravaggio: Un ritratto somigliante”. Specialized in the Italian barroque of which Caravaggio is the maximum exponent, her next book will be about the artists of that period – architects, sculptors and painters – who built and decorated Palazzo Pamphilj at Piazza Navona in Rome. Palazzo Pamphilj houses the Brazilian Embassy to Italy.