Hello! and welcome back to Carivaggio. If you are new here please read my first blog post as we are exploring the timeline of Baroque master Caravaggio.
Last time we were introduced to Caravaggio through one of his early works entitled Boy With a Basket of Fruit (1593). Today we are going to look at one of his most obscure and almost out of place works called Jupiter, Neptune, and Pluto. This work was painted in 1597, and is a sometimes (although incorrectly) referred to as his only Fresco.
As we are all learning here, it is important for us to begin to understand some art terminology. A Fresco, is a mural painting technique where the artist places paint on top of wet plaster, this allows the work to become one with the wall or ceiling upon it is painted.
Alright, now that we know what a Fresco actually is, what Caravaggio has done here is not a properly executed Fresco, although it is painted on the ceiling. Caravaggio painted with oils on plaster, and just because the work is on the ceiling, does a Fresco it make.
Up until this point, Caravaggio was establishing himself as an artist in Rome and was still figuring out his technique. As you noticed in Boy with a Basket of Fruit and from what you can see in this piece, his palette is still light and vibrant. This will drastically change in his later work.
So let's do some visual inspection. As I mentioned, the colors are light. We see a-lot of blue and white, with a vibrant blue background . There are three men, some animals, and a celestial sphere in the middle of the work. Despite all of this, what stands out to you the most here?
If you said the perspective, you would be correct. What is so intriguing about this ceiling piece is the angle. When you first look at the work, you take pause to determine what you are even looking at. Well, like everything in art history, this perspective happened for a reason. It is said that people had been critiquing Caravaggio for his inability to paint perspective. So when commissioned by the man will become his long time patron, Cardinal del Monte, Caravaggio would use this to show his skill and also establish himself as a well rounded painter.
It is said that this is an extreme use of Foreshortening. Foreshortening is the technique where an artist paints objects to appear with less depth to create perspective. As you can see, the figures appear to be directly on top of our faces, but Jupiter ( who's hand is reaching out to the sphere) is actually on top of it. I encourage you to study this work closely, as it is quite bizarre.
Look closely at the figures, they are supposed to be three different Gods, but don't they all look relatively the same? That is because it is said that Caravaggio modeled all three figures after himself. Even the genitals...
The idea of Caravaggio placing himself in the context of his work will come up many times during his career. So, ask you this. What do you think of this work? What does the perspective say about Caravaggio as an artist? What does the need to prove his naysayers wrong say about him as man? Is he equating himself to these mythical gods? Let me know what you think! And if you have any questions of your own please comment them below.
See you next time!