Narcissus

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Caravaggio, Narcissus, 1597
By EMMA SHAPIRO 

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.

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