Manual The Age of Caravaggio

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In the two versions of ''The Supper at Emmaus'' at the Met, or in the moment before the flagellation in the painting of that name that has come from Naples, or in the manner in which St. Andrew is fixed in place before his crucifixion, there is a sense of inexorable fatality, of lives lived in a way that can presage only an awesome conclusion, that has few parallels in art.

It should also be said that, to a degree that once again is almost unique, Caravaggio made us his accomplices. This is in part a matter of his use of space, but it is also a matter of his confidentiality.

Report written by Keith CHRISTIANSEN

If it was clear to everyone that he loved beautiful young men, and rather liked it if they were barely out of puberty, he didn't care. Theologians may have debated the sex of angels and come to no conclusion, but for Caravaggio an angel was just a very pretty boy with wings. Bourgeois prevarication played no part in his nature, or in his actions.

It is not perhaps sufficiently recognized that he also excelled at the portrayal of high-souled and clear-browed young women. As a man who had cast out cant, he came in the end to face the fact that Goliath might not have been just a hulking brute.

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He might have been a totally human being who was just so big, in every sense, that he had to be gotten rid of. In the earlier version from the Prado in the present show, David bends over the severed head of Goliath in precisely the trance of tenderness that Narcissus brings to his own image in the painting that hangs next to the ''David and Goliath. And in the late ''David and Goliath'' from the Borghese Gallery in Rome, there is no mistaking the nature of Caravaggio's involvement.

So far from being a public danger, this Goliath is a vast, all-seeing, all-feeling human being who has been brought low by a beautiful young man. It is at such moments that Caravaggio twists the knife in the traditional notion of human nature and takes us to the edge of an unacknowledged abyss.

Much in all this came from Caravaggio's own nature, and from the accelerated and violent course of his life. But great painting comes out of other painting, as much as from any one individual nature, no matter how imperious that nature may be. The first half of ''The Age of Caravaggio'' is devoted to the artist's precursors in Northern Italy, and to his contemporaries in Rome and Naples.

by Mina Gregori

If this sounds like Moli ere's ''Tartuffe,'' where the first appearance of the star of the show is interminably delayed, the reader can be reassured. Often wonderful in themselves, they are directly pertinent to Caravaggio, either for what they are, or for what they are not. It would be a great mistake to regard them as mere fillers.

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Combines a history of Caravaggio criticism through four centuries, with reproductions of many of the great works by the Italian painter of the late sixteenth century and outstanding examples from the oeuvre of the painters he influenced. Visit Seller's Storefront. For EU customers: Abacus Bookshop, sole proprietorship, abacus rochester. John Tribone, owner.

The Age of Caravaggio, 1590-1610

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List this Seller's Books. Today the name kindles reverence in the hearts of all those nurtured on the doctrinaire modernist version of art history.

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It was not always thus. Even 19th-Century romantics who should have been attracted to his energy and individualism were put off by his apparent lack of ethical goodness.

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  7. Caravaggio was cast in the same mold as the poet Jacques Villon. He was the creative outlaw, the Bohemian anti-saint who is permitted to cheat, seduce and steal as long as he serves the higher law of creativity. It is a curious, dark and unwritten aesthetic cannon which nonetheless has played a signal role in our times with their conventional service and secret attraction to an absolutist ego and lawlessness. It is a curious and contradictory mixture; a moralizing love of the poor and downtrodden, an irreverent iconoclasm that jeers at convention and a tainted neurosis that is at once exquisitely sensitive and lumpishly violent.

    Even more surprising is the fact that there never has been a major Caravaggio exhibition in this country, at least not until now.

    Well, never mind. The show is an event that will reward pilgrimages by the faithful, although they would be well advised to wait until closer to its closing April At the moment, the weather in New York is charitably described as filthy. Later, the show moves on to Naples. It will definitely not come to Los Angeles. Rubins was impressed, as were Spanish realists like Rivera. In France, his mantle came to rest on the shoulders of Georges de la Tour, and in Holland his dramatic light fulfilled itself in both Rembrandt and Vermeer.

    A chunky page catalogue has entries by over two dozen scholars, who chip away at the details with great diligence.

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    For the general viewer, the exhibition may serve to illustrate the old saw that every epoch has a generally available set of ideas which are distilled into a vision by one or two great talents. Caravaggio flowered during the counter-reformation.

    The embattled Catholic Church was looking for a way to get back in touch with the ordinary Catholic. To achieve this goal, they approved of a popularized imagery that would touch people directly through strong emotional reaction, rather than through complex intellectual dogma. When Caravaggio gave it to them, the church, of course, recoiled in prissy horror.