Monday, August 9, 2010

Raising of Lazarus

Title: Raising of Lazarus

Artist: Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio

Medium: oil on canvas

Size: 380 x 275 cm

Date: 1608-09

Location: Museo Nazionale, Messina.

John 11:38-44: Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. "Take away the stone," he said. "But, Lord," said Martha, the sister of the dead man, "by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days." Then Jesus said, "Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?" So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, "Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me." When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, "Lazarus, come out!" The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face. Jesus said to them, "Take off the grave clothes and let him go."

Lazarus was the patron of the wealthy Genoese merchant Giovanni Battista de' Lazzari, to whom Caravaggio was contracted to paint an altarpiece in the church of the Padri Crociferi for a fee of a thousand scudi, more than double any Caravaggio had received previously. Most of Caravaggio's religious subjects emphasize sadness, suffering and death. But in this painting he dealt with the triumph of life, and in doing so created the most visionary picture of his career.

As in several paintings from this period of Caravaggio's career, he has set the scene against blank walls that overwhelm the actors, who are laid out like figures on a frieze. As is usual with Caravaggio, light becomes an important element in the drama, picking out crucial details such as Lazarus's hands - one lax and open to receive, the other reaching towards Christ - and the wonder-struck faces of the onlookers. Some of these people may have been modeled on members of the community, but at this stage Caravaggio did not have time to base himself wholly on models and relied on his memory - the whole design is based on an engraving after Giulio Romano, and his Jesus is a reversed image of the Christ who called Matthew to join him. There is a remarkable contrast between the flexible bodies of the grieving sisters and the near-rigid corpse of their brother. Jesus is the resurrection and the life and in the darkness through him the truth is revealed.

Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, (1571, Caravaggio - 1610, Porto Ercole) was an Italian artist active between 1593 and 1610. He was the first great representative of the Baroque school of painting, noted for his intensely emotional canvases and dramatic use of lighting. The Resurrection of Lazarus was created during a period when Caravaggio was on the run, having fled authorities in Rome after a violent incident in 1606. The works of Caravaggio's flight, painted under the most adverse of circumstances, show a subdued tone and a delicacy of emotion that is even more intense than the overt dramatics of his earlier paintings. Famous and extremely influential while he lived, Caravaggio was almost entirely forgotten in the centuries after his death. Only in the 20th century was his importance to the development of Western art rediscovered.

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