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Tag Archives: Caravaggio

Object of the Month: January 2024

The Body of Christ Prepared for Burial

Oil on canvas, signed and dated: .EQVS.IO.BAGLIONVS.RO.P.1616

Cavaliere Giovanni Baglione, called Il Sordo del Barozzo

Roman, c. 1566-1644

Giovanni Baglione was born, lived and died in Rome; although he received and completed art commissions elsewhere. He was an important artist in his day, even becoming President of the Roman Academy. He authored two books including The Lives of Painters, Sculptors, Architects and Engravers, active from 1572–1642, which has become a fundamental source for study of 17th-century Italian art of more than 200 artists, particularly in Rome.

Like many artists of the Baroque era, Baglione was influenced by the younger painter Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio. He sought to borrow and integrate Caravaggio’s naturalism and technique of dramatic light and shadow, which was quite novel. The two were in competition for commissions in Rome by the popes, nobles, and influentials.

Although incredibly talented, Caravaggio was arrogant and an angry, violent man. He expressed his hatred of Baglione through mockery and insults including his writing and circulating slanderous satirical poems criticizing him. In 1603, Baglione sued Caravaggio and three other painters (Orazio Gentileschi, Onorio Longhi, and Filippo Trisegni) for libel. According to the court records from the trial, Caravaggio said Baglione was no friend of his, and that he was not a good painter. Then he outlined his views in court about what a good painter was—“a man who can paint well and imitate nature well.” Essentially, in Caravaggio’s opinion, Baglione could do neither. In his book on the Lives, Baglione also shared his own view of Caravaggio saying, “he would speak badly of painters of the past, no matter how distinguished they were, because he thought that he alone had surpassed all other artists in his profession.”

Baglione’s most esteemed painting is in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, Peter Raising Tabitha from the Dead, for which he was made a Knight of the Order of Christ by Pope Paul V in 1606.

In spite of the bitterness between the two artists, Baglione produced a painting inspired by one of Caravaggio’s most renowned works—the Entombment in the Vatican Pinacoteca. If not the first, Baglione was one of the first artists to emulate Caravaggio’s revolutionary style, and he described his rival’s Entombment as Caravaggio’s best work. M&G’s The Body of Christ Prepared for Burial references some elements from Caravaggio’s work, such as the stone slab and highlighting and shadowing. M&G’s painting is not Baglione’s first version of the subject, which was finished in 1608—just five years after the libel lawsuit—as a commissioned altarpiece for the church of the Pio Monte della Misericordia in Naples.

However, eight years later he refined the composition into M&G’s version, which he signed and dated the lower right corner of the stone slab as Cavaliere Giovanni Baglione, revealing his knightly status.

It’s ironic, but art historians believe that Baglione’s best pictures are his most “Caravaggesque.” M&G’s treatment is a more classical interpretation of Caravaggio’s version. We’re uncertain of who commissioned the canvas, but it may have been an altarpiece because of its size of more than 7’ tall, the centrality of Christ’s body, and the details with the elements of the passion (crown and nails on the lower left).

Among other specialists, Edgar Peters Bowron describes M&G’s painting as one of his “noblest compositions and demonstrates how good he was in his maturity.”

Today, Baglione is most famous for his authorship of two important books: a guidebook about Roman churches and the volume of artist biographies. He is also remembered for his interactions with Caravaggio. Yet, he was an extremely accomplished artist and favored by popes; he also proved that he was able to learn and profit from other more talented artists.

M&G’s painting is a rare example of Baglione’s work in America and one of his most significant paintings. Dr. Stephen Pepper has described it as “the most important painting by Baglione in an American collection.”


Erin R. Jones, M&G Executive Director


Published 2024


Antonio del Castillo y Saavedra: St. John the Baptist in the Wilderness

In addition to highlighting traditional symbols associated with John the Baptist, Castillo’s painting illustrates how renderings of this prophet changed over time.

Object of the Month: April 2016

The Mocking of Christ

Oil on canvas, c. 1620–30

Unknown French or Dutch (follower of Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio)

Active 17th century

Click on the links throughout the article to view additional artists’ works and reference material.

One of the most important (and revolutionary) painters in history was the Italian artist, Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio. He broke free from mannerist conventions and stylistic artifice in the late 1500s and set a new path for artistic expression. At first, Caravaggio experimented in such genres as still life and scenes of common people including musicians and gamblers. These subjects were not depicted in mainstream art and neither was his conception of them.

As he earned commissions, he applied this personal vision to familiar Biblical themes. However, Caravaggio’s interpretation of these narratives was anything but traditional. The heightened realism, use of ordinary people as models (whom he presented without an idealistic lens), and novel, masterful compositions attracted many Romans to his genius.

The most influential and singularly astounding element of his style is his dramatic use of light that illuminated his figures as if they emerged from deep shadows; this contrast of light and dark is known as chiaroscuro, a technique also used by Leonardo da Vinci and Rembrandt van Rijn.

Not only the Romans turned their attention to Caravaggio, but soon other artists and patrons around Europe began to take note. As the artistic capital of Italy, Rome was viewed as the final experience for artists seeking to complete their training; many painters visiting from Spain, France, Germany, Flanders and Holland found inspiration in Caravaggio’s fresh approach—including one of the favorites of M&G’s guests, Gerrit van Honthorst.

The unknown French or Dutch author of the present painting likely saw Caravaggio’s paintings first-hand in Rome and sought to emulate his style. He may very well have seen the artist’s conception of this same subject, The Crowning of Thorns, now housed in the Kunsthistoriches Museum, Vienna.

The same characters, a man wearing armor and plumed hat and a torturer with a gaping white shirt, are found in both paintings. Even the “V” shape made by the bamboo reeds above Christ’s head are echoed in each composition. Furthermore, several of the figure types in this painting are similar to models in some of Caravaggio’s paintings.

While M&G cannot claim to have an autograph Caravaggio painting (there are only a handful in America), this painting is the closest we have to the master’s style and is clearly by the hand of an accomplished artist who sought to emulate not only one of the greatest artists of his time, but of all time.

John M. Nolan, Curator


Published in 2016

Object of the Month: June 2015

The Holy Family in the Carpenter Shop 

Oil on canvas

Gerrit van Honthorst, called Gherardo delle Notti

Dutch, 1592–1656


Click on the links throughout the article to view additional artists’ works and reference material.

Gerrit van Honthorst was a Dutch painter active during the early 17th century. Born in Utrecht, Holland in 1592, he was trained as an artist, as were two of his brothers. However, Gerrit became the most successful painter in his family. He was also the most famous member of a group called the “Utrecht Caravaggisti,” or those following the style of Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio in the northern European area called the Utrecht.

Honthorst is best known for taking Caravaggio’s example of dramatically using natural light and shadow and adapting the technique for nocturnal scenes with artificial light such as candles or lanterns to illuminate his paintings. This style trait gave him the nickname “Gherardo delle Notti” or “Gerard of the Night.”

Honthorst first studied in Utrecht, then lived and worked in Italy for several years before returning to the northern Netherlands in 1620. In 1622, he became a member of the Utrecht Guild of St. Luke and eventually served as its dean in the late 1620’s. Although Honthorst attracted international attention long before becoming a member of the guild, it was during this time, that he began to diversify from the Caravaggesque style by using less artificial light in his major works and made an extremely well-received visit to England, where he was given English citizenship and a lifetime pension (1628). After his return to Utrecht, his international reputation grew widely, especially among the royal and courtly circles in England and other nations.

M&G’s painting, The Holy Family in the Carpenter Shop, returns to the museum this month from an extended loan to the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, Italy, which featured a monograph exhibition showing Honthorst’s lifetime of work.

M&G’s painting is a classic example of the Utrecht Caravaggisti style of painting. The canvas is illuminated by a single candle-lit lantern, and the scene is both nocturnal and heavily shadowed. Honthorst depicts Mary, clothed in her symbolic red garments, helping a young Jesus hold the lantern high so that Joseph can see to carve in his woodshop. This portrayal invites the viewer into the intimate setting while also placing the family in an ordinary work environment.

Mollie Nelson, former M&G graduate assistant


Published in 2015

Object of the Month: July 2014

The Mocking of Christ

Oil on canvas, c. 1620–30

Unknown French or Dutch (follower of Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio)

Active 17th century


The attribution of unsigned paintings is a tricky business and can stump even the most well-respected scholars. Sometimes documentary evidence can help to attribute firmly an author to a painting, and at other times attribution can be securely made by an expert’s trained eye through an analysis and comparison of the artist’s style and technique. The present painting illustrates the difficulty of determining attribution for an unsigned painting several hundred years old due to two complications: a dearth of documentary evidence and the artist’s using a popular style/technique (which limits unique identifying elements to an artist’s individual style).

The starting point for comparison of this work originates with the revolutionary Italian artist, Michelangelo Merisi, called Caravaggio. The dramatic lighting effects and use of ordinary people for models are some of the hallmarks of his style. These same characteristics are carried through in this painting: the shaft of light streaming down from the top center to the lower right and the variety of rugged-looking characters surrounding Christ.

The painting bears a striking similarity to the same paintings of this subject produced by Caravaggio, especially his Crowning of Thorns in the Kunsthistoriches Museum, Vienna. The characters of an armored man with a plumed hat and a torturer wearing a gaping, white shirt are found in both paintings. Even the “V” shape made by the bamboo reeds above Christ’s head are echoed in each composition. Furthermore, several of the figure types reflect similar models in some of Caravaggio’s paintings. For example, the Spanish-looking man with the reed (at the far left) resembles the man holding the ropes (at the far right) in Caravaggio’s Flagellation in the Musee des Beaux-Arts, Rouen. The boy in the feathered hat in the upper right also is a stock character found in a number of Caravaggio’s early genre paintings, including the Cardsharps at the Kimbell Museum of Art.

Comparisons such as these may seem like a good indication for an attribution to Caravaggio. However, his style became extremely popular and widely mimicked—making the task of assigning authorship difficult. Artists from all parts of Europe—France, Spain, Flanders, Holland, and Germany—flocked to Rome in the early 1600s and tried their hand at experimenting with his new style. Artists who incorporated Caravaggio’s style often retained some of their own nuances that made their work unique and more readily identifiable.

Paintings that bear a strong resemblance to Caravaggio’s paintings are often attributed to Bartolomeo Manfredi, his closest Italian follower. The similarity of Manfredi’s style to Caravaggio’s is compelling, making Manfredi a potential part of the equation with the present painting. However, scholars at Sotheby’s have isolated features unlike Manfredi’s style such as the metallic coloring, handling of the drapery, facial features (especially the figure to the far right) to point to an attribution to a Northern artist working in Rome.

The present painting seems to have the closest affinity to artists from France who were working in Rome during the 1620s—namely Nicolas Régnier, Valentin de Boulogne, and Nicolas Tournier. Of these three, the strongest possibility for an attribution for this painting is Tournier, who used similar expressive figure types, compositional arrangement, and handling of paint and drapery, as seen in his Merry Company in the St. Louis Art Museum. The facial type of Christ and handling of drapery are especially close to Tournier’s The Fiasco Drinker in the Galleria Estense, Modena.

Until further research, comparisons, and additional expert opinions support a specific attribution (such as Nicolas Tournier), the painting will continue to carry its current, more general designation as an Unknown French or Dutch Follower of Caravaggio.

John M. Nolan, Curator 


Published in 2014