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The Martyrdom of Saint Ursula, Caravaggio's (1571–1610) last painting, is on exceptional loan from the Banca Intesa Sanpaolo in Naples and presented with The Met's The Denial of Saint Peter, also created by the artist in the last months of his life. Commissioned by the Genoese patrician Marcantonio Doria two months before the artist's death in July 1610, Caravaggio painted The Martyrdom of Saint Ursula in an unprecedented minimalist style; its interpretation of the tragic event that is its subject, combined with the abbreviated manner of painting, has only one parallel: The Denial of Saint Peter.
These two extraordinary paintings have not been reunited since a 2004 exhibition in London and Naples devoted to Caravaggio's late work. Since then, there has been a great deal of information discovered about Caravaggio's last years. This exhibition offers a rare opportunity to see these two pictures side by side and to examine the novelty of Caravaggio's late style, in which the emphasis is less on the naturalistic depiction of the figures than on their psychological presence. In these two works, Caravaggio poignantly probes a dark world burdened by guilt and doom, suggesting to some scholars an intersection with his biography and his sense of the tragedy of life.
Credit: Exhibition overview from museum website
There are many books about Caravaggio, and we suggest a few of them here. One that this editor particular likes is a little book, Caravaggio Painter of Miracles, by novelist Francine Prose. It's a wonderful starting point for those with an interest in Caravaggio and his work, but without a great deal of background knowledge. Many readers, I think, are inspired to follow this up with further reading. Prose is a engaging writer, offering a lucid portrait of the times in which Caravaggio lived, and insightful discussion about some of his paintings. Small pictures are included, but readers may want to refer to images on the web or in a glossy picture book. MJM
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