Click on photos to enlarge.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Giovanni Battista Caracciolo

Half-length Figure of a Young Man (possibly a
Bacchus), Giovanni Caracciolo.
As art students pursue the technical and philosophical details of their learning, on rare occasions there usually occurs a moment when they realize some profound secret, or truth about themselves or their art. Today we might call it a "light bulb moment." I suppose this might occur in any area of study as well. I had an instructor in my first college-level class in composition (writing) who referred to my sudden insight into some aspect of my writing (I forget the details) as an "epiphany." I guess in the back of my mind I'd heard the word before in conjunction with its more common religious meaning, but I confess, I needed yet another epiphany to understand its meaning.
Way to Calvary, Giovanni Caracciolo
Saint John the Baptist,
Giovanni Caracciolo
The late 16th-century Italian painter Giovanni Battista Caracciolo had an epiphany (or more likely, a whole series of them). Near the end of September or in early October of 1606, Caracciolo was in Naples where he met another talented painter, who was, as it so happened, a fugitive from justice. (He was fleeing Rome after having killed a man in a brawl.) That artist was the brilliant Michel-angelo Merisi da Caravaggio. Immediately Caracciolo became one of Caravaggio's stu-dents, and by all accounts, his best student. Caracciolo must have also been something of a "quick study" in that his mentor's stay in the city lasted only about eight months, though he made another brief visit to Naples around 1609/1610. Yet Caravaggio's impact on his pupil's artistic life there was nothing less than profound.
Sick Bacchus, 1593-94,
Caravaggio (self-portrait)

Although Caracciolo's painting Half-length Figure of a Young Man (top) is undated, it's not hard to see the similarities to Car-avaggio's Sick Bacchus (above) from 1597, with which Caracciolo seems to have been familiar. The pose, the lighting, even the sparkling look of mischief can be seen as an emulation of Caravaggio. It is unfortunately difficult to tell whether Carac-ciolo's canvas was originally part of a figure of Saint John the Baptist, though this seems improbable due to the lack of the characteristic sheepskin clothing across his loins. However, the youth's air of coarseness and his enticing smile seem far removed from a religious representation. These qualities seem to suggest instead a figure of Bacchus. The painting's inspir-ation could still derive from the Saint John the Baptist since this was one of Cara-vaggio's last works painted in Naples, and among his best-known compositions. Car-acciolo has retained the idea of the figure resting on an elbow and the felicitous placing of one hand gently across the other forearm.

Presumed portrait of
Giovanni Caracciolo, 1773
Archival documents state Caracciolo was born in Naples and baptized in December, 1578. The family lived in the parish of San Giovanni Maggiore. At the age of twenty, Caracciolo married Beatrice de Mario. They had ten children, eight of whom survived to adulthood. Caracciolo's initial training was said to be with Francesco Imparato and Fabrizio Santafede, but the first real impulse in his art came from Caravaggio's sudden presence in Naples in late 1606. Caracciolo, was five years younger than Caravaggio, but was among the first to adopt the startling new style with its somber palette, dramatic tenebrism, and sculptural fig-ures in a shallow picture plane. His figures were defined by light rather than by perspective. Caracciolo is considered to have been the sole founder of the Neapol-itan school of Caravaggism.

Baptism of Christ, 1610, Giovanni Caracciolo.
Caracciolo's Caravaggesque phase was fundamental to his entire career. His first contact with Caravaggio must have been around the time of the Radolovich commission, dated October 6, 1606. Caracciolo's paintings can rightly be divided into two groups--pre-Caravaggio and post-Caravaggio. The artist's Way to Calvary is undated but appears to be pre-Caravaggio. The same is likely the case with the artist's St. John the Baptist (seen earlier). Contrast it with the 1610-20 St. John the Baptist in the Wilderness (below) and his Baptism of Christ (above) both documented as from after 1610 are obviously from the latter period.

The Young Saint John in the Wilderness,
1610-20, Giovanni Battista Caracciolo.
Even a cursory glance at most of Caracciolo's figures, whether religious or mythological, would suggest homoerotic overtones, though a married man having father ten children would hardly be suspected as being gay. As for Caravaggio, that's a different story. In any case, it would seem that Caracciolo's "following" of his artistic idol included a preference for painting male nudes (or semi-nudes) with little regard as to religious, mythological, or homosexual contexts (below). Caracciolo died in Naples, on Christmas Eve, 1635, just a few days after signing his last will and testament.

Sleeping Cupid, Giovanni Battista Caracciolo
The Sacrifice of Abraham
after 1610, Giovanni Caracciolo


1 comment: