St. Apollonia

Fransisco de Zurbarán, St. Apollonia, 1636

Say you had a horrible tooth ache back in the day. The only way to treat said tooth ache was to pray to this lovely Saint painted here in hopes of getting some sort of relief.  Saint Apollonia, the Patron Saint of Dentistry, was martyred for not renouncing her faith under the reign of Emperor Phillip. According to "Catholic Online," Saint Apollonia's teeth were painfully knocked out by a Christian persecutor, and after being threatened to be burned at the stake if she did not renounce her faith, she voluntarily jumped into the flames. She dies in the year 249.

Saint Apollonia, painted by Zurbarán in 1636, wears a colorful dress and green shawl that rests over her shoulders. A flower crown tops her flawless, pink-blushed face and a bow wraps around her tiny waist. However, like most paintings of Saint Apollonia, she is holding an interesting item in her right hand. Looking into it closer, she is hold a pair of elongated pliers and ripped out tooth. Zurbarán's other Patron Saint paintings also include an item or body part of what makes the Saint special. Examples include his painting of Saint Lucy holding her scooped out eyes, or even his depiction of Saint Agatha with get the point.
  • 7:00 AM

The Martyrdom of St. Lawrence

Image result for the martyrdom of st lawrence tibaldi
Tibaldi, The Martyrdom of St. Lawrence, 1592

Saint Lawrence was a deacon in Rome and in charge of distributing alms to the poor provided by the church.  He then distributed the church's treasures, not just money but actual treasure, to the poor. The Prefect of Rome came to visit and wanted to see the treasures of the church, but when Lawrence brought forth the poor people holding the treasures, the Prefect ordered that he be killed over a fire, He is most well known for saying, "I'm well done, turn me over" and this made him the saint of cooks, chefs, and comedians. Now some people believe that the story is the result of mistranslated word, usually deacons, priests, and bishops were hanged.

The colors are bright and bold in the foreground and the dark background contrasts with the figure of St. Lawrence.  His pale skin and angle of the light puts him in a spotlight.  He almost seems to lounge on the bed of fire while all of the other figures bent and tensing in violent poses.  The painting has lots of action and anger, accentuated by the red glow from the fire, so that Lawrence's sublime expression becomes the center of focus. The fire glow both illuminates and creates more shadow to the figures around it.  Saint Lawrence is not touched by the red light or even the fire underneath him, which only sets him off from the rest of the painting.  

  • 7:00 AM

The Surrender of Breda

The Surrender of Breda, Diego Velazquez, 1635

 La rendición de Breda (in English The Surrender of Breda) is a painting by Diego Velazquez during the Spanish Golden Age. The historical context is that the Spanish Empire is involved in a war against the Kingdom of France, the kingdom of England, the Kingdom of Denmark and The United Provinces of Netherlands. That war was called the Eighty Years war or the War in Flanders. In 1624 with 18,000 soldiers, the Spanish army under the command of Ambrosio Spinola, attacked the city of Breda protected by a garrison of 14,000 soldiers under the command of Maurice of Orange. At this point the battle was going well. The problem started when the besieged received the support of 6,000 English and 2,000 danish. Fortunately for the Spaniards, they received 500 soldiers that could resist the charge of the Danish army, and the English could not break the siege. As a result the besieged decided to surrender. Spain's loss turned into be a victory. 
painted symbolic signs. For instance, the Spaniards got bigger and more pikes than the rebels. Another symbol is that there are columns of fumes going straight to the sky on the rebels' side, which means the destruction of the rebel army. In the background a Tercio is taking the city. The last symbol is the clearness of the sky, which means  that God wants Spain to win a war against the protestants. An important detail that we must consider in this work is that Velazquez has not painted the battle, but the end of it when Nassau hands the keys to Spinola. The battle scenes of the Renaissance insisted on the power of the conqueror over the vanquished. Velazquez intentionally departs from this puts both generals on an equal footing. If you realize there is no mood to humiliate the enemy. Spinola does not allow Nassau to give the keys of the city on his knees as was usual, but he places his hand on his shoulder with condescension, which highlights the chivalry, gallantry, and honor of the victorious Spaniards. The victory is without arrogance, because forgiveness exalts more than vengeance, clemency is an allegory of the prince. It is evident that the attitude of nobility of both commanders and the patience show us virtuousness.

  • 7:00 AM

Death of the Virgin

Caravaggio, Death of the Virgin, 1605-6

A man of controversy himself, Caravaggio's work followed suit. This painting at completion was rejected by the clergy and by the patron because of its indecency. There were rumors that the model for the Virgin Mary was a woman of the night that Caravaggio found in a river and dragged into the studio.

Additionally, the suggestion that she is dead welcomed even more distress among the Catholic community. Her sickly and bloated feet and hands along with her frazzled hair suggests that she is, in fact, dead. To quote Monty Python, she "is no more! [She] has ceased to be! 'E's expired and gone to meet 'is maker! 'E's a stiff! Bereft of life, 'e rests in peace!"

It appears that her death occurred and was neither instantaneous nor holy. The Apostles and the young woman in the foreground (who I will assume is Mary Magdalene) grieve like she had died like any other mortal, and did not assent into heaven without "dying," as it is suggested in the Bible. Unlike other artists at the time, Mary is not embracing the heavens or is surrounded by angels and cherubs. Instead, she appears grounded on Earth. And her halo is barely visible. While this is a spiritual painting, few clues suggest this.

One of these indications is the beautiful red draping fabric that mirrors the scene below it. Somewhat of a mannerist flare to the image, it covers about one third of the painting's composition. Because its color is the same as the Virgin Mary's dress, Caravaggio hints that this is her soul ascending into heaven. Other Assumption of the Virgin paintings of this time appear almost nothing like this rendition. This masterpiece looks to be happening right before us as if we are standing right behind the brass bowl on the ground. Like in Giotto's Lamentation about three hundred years before, Caravaggio welcomes the viewer right into the scene as if we were witnessing this biblical scene with the rest of them.

This is just one of several dark, Earthly, captivating, controversial and so well executed paintings Caravaggio produced as he matured and grew more insane. How can such a mad man create such beautiful and contemporary art?

  • 7:00 AM

Boy with a Basket of Fruit

Caravaggio, Boy with a Basket of Fruit, 1593

In 1884, John Singer-Sargent famously painted Madame X, which was displayed at the Salon in Paris. In the painting, Madame X dons an elegant black gown with straps. A little known facts is that Singer-Sargent originally painted one of the straps to fall off of her shoulder. This scandalous choice received backlash from viewers and the model, enough so that Sargent repainted the strap securely around her shoulder.

John Singer-Sargent, Madame X, 1884

In 1593, Caravaggio painted Boy with a Basket of Fruit. When I first looked at this work, my eyes were drawn to the boy’s muscular shoulder, rather than to the vibrant fruit. His the white cloth of his shirt rests below his shoulder. Immediately I remembered Singer-Sargent’s Madame X. Is Boy with a Basket of Fruit the original Madame X?

The fruit is captured at its peak of ripeness. The boy, at 16 years of age, is also at peak ripeness. Caravaggio could have just painted the fruit, like he did with Basket of Fruit in 1599. Rather than set his basket of fruit to a plain background, he places it in the hands of a boy, who was actually fellow painter Mario Minniti. By painting a boy holding the fruit, he adds depth and emotion to the work, since he captures the strong colors of the fruit, the emotions of the boy, and the tension between the boy’s body and the basket.

The boy stood for who knows how long as Caravaggio painted this masterpiece. His muscles are flexed from holding the basket and his head is leaned back. His face shows a look of annoyance and boredom, as if the face was painted a few hours into his modeling session. Still, face also has a sensual look. The boy’s sleeve has conveniently fallen off the boy’s shoulder, letting the viewer get a nice view of his built upper body.

The light hits the boys’ face and shoulder, causing him to glisten. The fruit is also highlighted by the light source coming from the upper left corner. The boy, his white shirt, and the colorful fruit pop against the shadows in the background. His dark hair adds interesting contrast with the lightness of the background at the top of the painting.

Caravaggio is a master of details. The wicker basket looks intricate and well-constructed. The folds in the boy’s shirt look real. Each morsel of fruit looks freshly picked. The boy’s face and flesh looks realistic. Caravaggio’s great eye for detail and skill helps his paintings come to life.

*In Simon Schama’s The Power of Art: Caravaggio Andrew Garfield portrays the Boy with a Basket of Fruit. I would like to start a petition for praise of his performance. #Oscar4Andrew, get it trending people.
  • 7:00 AM

Martha and Mary Magdalene

Caravaggio, Martha and Mary Magdalene, 1598


Mary Magdalene is often seen as the woman lamenting over the feet of Christ. Although in Caravaggio’s depiction of the young women she resembles a well put together socialite, not a grieving widow. A woman before her life was changed by God. Caravaggio, not one to fuss around with titles, simply called the painting Martha and Mary Magdalene. Despite the ordinary name, through Martha and Mary Magdalene Caravaggio intimately captures a moment between two sisters as they debate the meaning of life. 

He draws the viewer in the with blockly table, exposing the slightly run down corner on the left to demonstrate the wear and tear of the space Martha and Mary Magdalene occupy. Additionally he brings the viewer’s gaze upwards with the lacks of objects on the table. Caravaggio closes off the left-side of the paintings with Martha’s attire. His use heavy draping mimics the background and table, demonstrating how Martha exists as part of the scene, part of the world with the worn down corners. 

Mary Magdalene represents the opposite with her ornate dress, with the heavy beading on her bodice in comparison to her sister’s simpleton dress. Despite different styles, Caravaggio's parallels the sister’s bond in the the red hues that fall of their left shoulders. Although here by painting Martha’s red slighter duller and without elaborate folding, Caravaggio references Martha’s maturity and responsibility. While Mary’s vibrant red cloth hints at life just being, a red not yet tarnished or dulled by time, but awaiting it’s arrival into the world. Caravaggio continues this theme with the green hues as well, juxtaposing the Mary vibrancy with Martha's dullness. 

Despite the lack of blood and violence in Martha and Mary Magdalene, Caravaggio still creates immense tension regarding the bond between the two. According to the New Testament story, this scene depicts Martha attempting to convert Mary Magdalene to follow Jesus Christ. Through Martha’s open palms, one feels her desperation and with Mary Magdalene’s gnarled fingers one feels her anxiety and fear of the unknown. 

Martha’s openness indicates her lack of fear, while Mary Magdalene’s desperate clutch on the flower in her hand and attachment to the mirror to her right represents a fear of letting go. Mary Magdalene’s right hand hovers above the light source of the painting which stems from the a slightly off centered point in the mirror. Mary points to this unknown source of light, asking to her sister, "Is this glimpse of light God?" Martha's upward glance of the head toward Mary and the light confirms Mary's beliefs. Yet do they agree? 

Caravaggio uses different lines of sight for the two women to represent a disconnect between the two, to demonstrate that despite the obvious similarities between the two women a spiritual connection is nonexistent. 

I love the intimacy of the painting, the feelings that I am invading a private moment between two sisters and questioning whether I should slowly tip toe out the backdoor. Caravaggio does not need blood to make the viewer uncomfortable. By making you feel as if you have intruded on something, Caravaggio makes you feel a part of something more important than yourself. 

Caravaggio takes religious figures outside of heaven to relate them to his people of Rome. For God acts the same on the filthy streets of Rome as he does in the most prestigious rooms of Vatican. In the case of Caravaggio perhaps his desire to see everyone on his level, relates back to his lack of title and sufficient funds. Caravaggio proves how little pedigree matters by ripping God out of the heavens and placing him in a darkly lit room, home to the ordinary. 

I charge you to look at Martha and Mary Magdalene without thinking of the biblical story or title, think about two women just talking about life, weighing out wealth and fulfillment, just trying to figure out their place in this great big world. For in the eyes of Caravaggio, we peasants are the models of God. Caravaggio forces you to recognize your humanity head on. It’s time get your head out of those gold trimmed clouds and let the dark Earth engulf you.
  • 3:55 PM


Caravaggio, Narcissus, 1597

Ovid's Metamorphoses tells the greek myth of Narcissus, a hunter. The story goes that Narcissus's beauty caused many to fall in love with him. Narcissus, however, greeted all affections with contempt, thinking of no one as worthy. One day as Narcissus hunted through the forest, the mountain nymph, Echo, fell and love and followed him. When he began to catch on that someone was following, Echo revealed herself to him with open arms. Narcissus, being a narcissist, rejected Echo, leaving her brokenhearted. Nemesis, the G-d of revenge, then decided Narcissus deserved punishment for his evil actions. Nemesis brought Narcissus to a pond, where he saw his reflection and fell in love with it. Initially, Narcissus did not recognize the thing as his own reflection, but when he figured it out he committed suicide over the sadness that his love could not become real.

In Caravaggio's painting of Narcissus, Narcissus acts as the only light in a void of black. The boy stares down longingly and leans into his own perfectly reflected image. The way Caravaggio tilts and pulls forward the head brings it in line with the boy's shoulders to create a parabolic body. The connection of the two semi-circles from the land and water creates a circle. The circle shuts out the background and focuses on Narcissus's self obsession, and his living within his own bubble. It also draws in the theme of the never ending cycle of narcissism. Minimal evidence exists to prove that Caravaggio painted this Narcissus, but the soft and sinister shadowing is characteristic of Caravaggio's style.
  • 7:00 AM

Judith Beheading Holofernes

Image result for caravaggio
Caravaggio, Judith Beheading Holofernes, 1598

Holofernes was an invading general poised to attack Judith's city, Bethulia. As the city leaders were about to surrender, Judith walked into Holofernes' camp and used her womanly super powers of seduction to get the general drunk and distract him. She slept with Holofernes then slit his throat as he lay passed out from the alcohol. Judith is often seen with her hand maiden, an elderly woman, who holds the bag to put Holofernes' head in. Caravaggio captures the general's pain and surprise and Judith's determination perfectly. The old lady looks pissed at Holofernes for bleeding on the sheets; she looks like she just said, "He finally got what he deserved."

The red cloth above them could represent Holofernes' soul leaving, like in Caravaggio's painting of Mary's death. But, the fabric does not have the same upward movement, meaning that Holofernes' soul is not going to Heaven. The red cloth cold also mean that the threat to Bethulia dissolved with the beheading of the general. Bethulia's salvation came with the blood/head of Holofernes.  Another interpretation is that the downward motion of the fabric is a divine force guiding Judith's hand.  One of the folds lines up perfectly with her sword arm.

As much as I would celebrate Judith's actions, I doubt her fellow villagers would agree. She was an unmarried widow who slept with an enemy soldier, then she killed him. She may have saved her city, but a woman's worth at that time was based on their purity and softness. Judith's actions would have resulted in the degradation of her reputation and possibly punishment. I like to think that she knew what the repercussions could be and decided to carry out her plan anyway.
  • 7:00 AM

The Martyrdom of St. Matthew

The Martyrdom of St. Matthew, Caravaggio, 1599-1600
The story of the painting is one from the Bible. Hirticus, a king, wanted to marry the niece of St. Matthew, Iphigenia. However, because she had been resurrected by St. Matthew and was an abbess of a convent, St. Matthew refused the marriage. Enraged by his refusal, Hirticus had him killed. Caravaggio was known for mixing religious devotion with the chaotic modern world, in which death, cheating, and murder happened daily.

Caravaggio's painting depicts the inside of a dark, vast church, where converts wait, undressed and prepared for their baptism. Despite the religious precedents for this painting, in which they focus on the ascension of St. Matthew as the center of the painting, Caravaggio chooses to place the assassin at the center of the painting, light falling on him, as his figure and the figure of St. Matthew form a triangle at the center of the painting. This is an odd irony; the light falls, godlike, on the killer, while St. Matthew's body seems almost ready to fall backwards into the abyss below him. As the assassin prepares the killing blow, the figures of the converted scatter and flee, while the only one to stay is the angel descending, ready to place the palm of the martyr into St. Matthew's outstretched hand.
  • 7:00 AM

The Beheading of Saint John the Baptist

Caravaggio, Beheading of Saint John the Baptist, 1608
Brutal...violent...and just downright Caravaggio.

Caravaggio portrays the gruesome beheading of John the Baptist, removing divine aspects commonly associated with religious works. The impulsive painter created this altar piece following his admittance into the Order of St. John while taking refuge in Malta. When The Beheading of Saint John the Baptist was revealed to an audience of knights and nobleman, everyone gazed with an eye of eerie discomfort and brutality. Caravaggio takes a saintly figure and violently buries him into the Earth, evoking no sentiments of becoming closer with God or passage to Heaven. The muscular assassin seemingly pins John downward with no escape, turning this into a seemingly back alley murder in a dainty corner. Even the figures around the corpse, aside from the old woman, lack emotion standing next to a horrible act of murder. Caravaggio pushes the boundaries even further, signing "F. Michelan" in the spewing blood from John's neck. Some historians believe this is short for Fra Michelangelo, meaning Brother Michelangelo (his first name). Or, could he be comparing himself to one of the greats?

The composition is split by the dark brick column, part of the larger arch behind the figures. Caravaggio leaves a noticeable amount of excess space, all of which are somber browns and near blacks. The earthy color scheme helps John's piercing red cloak strike the viewer more intensely. In other Caravaggio paintings, he used red sheets to represent the transfer of a body from Earth to Heaven, however here its different. The murderer's foot pins the red cloak down, suppressing from John from advancing upward. The gory imagery of John being so heavily defeated seems ironic given Caravaggio intended this painting to go to the Order of St. John. Though, are we really surprised? Undeniably one of the most talented in history, Caravaggio's unpredictability and rebellious nature makes his works even more enjoyable to study. 
  • 7:00 AM