Caravaggio’s Sensual Art Is Baroque Film Noir: Martin Gayford

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Michelangelo Merisi (1571-1610), better known as Caravaggio, stands a good chance of becoming the preferred old master of the 21st century.

Research by art historian Philip Sohm shows that in recent decades more has been written about him than that other Michelangelo (Buonarroti), previously top of art pop charts.

A steady stream of Caravaggio news stories appears, intensifying this year to mark the 400th anniversary of his death. In June, Italian anthropologists claimed to have identified his bones by DNA analysis in Porto Ercole, the town on the Tuscan coast where he died.

Caravaggio was an art star. He instigated one of the most startling revolutions in all of painting. When he arrived in Rome at the end of the 16th century, it was the end of the Renaissance. The standard style was vapid, idealized: in a word, academic. Suddenly, around 1600, Caravaggio started to produce pictures that looked totally different.

His dark, violent, sinister, sexy world -- in which the angels look as if they might pick your pocket and the saints resemble street people -- is profoundly in touch with our contemporary sensibilities. The question is why.

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