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The Path of Humility

Caravaggio and Carlo Borromeo


Anne H. Muraoka

The Path of Humility: Caravaggio and Carlo Borromeo establishes a fundamental relationship between the Franciscan humility of Archbishop of Milan Carlo Borromeo and the Roman sacred works of Caravaggio. This is the first book to consider and focus entirely upon these two seemingly anomalous personalities of the Counter-Reformation. The import of Caravaggio’s Lombard artistic heritage has long been seen as pivotal to the development of his sacred style, but it was not his only source of inspiration. This book seeks to enlarge the discourse surrounding Caravaggio’s style by placing him firmly in the environment of Borromean Milan, a city whose urban fabric was transformed into a metaphorical Via Crucis. This book departs from the prevailing preoccupation – the artist’s experience in Rome as fundamental to his formulation of sacred style – and toward his formative years in Borromeo’s Milan, where humility reigned supreme. This book is intended for a broad, yet specialized readership interested in Counter-Reformation art and devotion. It serves as a critical text for undergraduate and graduate art history courses on Baroque art, Caravaggio, and Counter-Reformation art.
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Saint Matthew was once Levi the tax collector. Saint Paul was once Saul the persecutor of Christians. Saint Mary Magdalene was a former prostitute. These are only some of the saints whose lives are recalled in the Gospels and hagiographic texts, people who turned their lives around, converted, and became disciples of Christ. Their conversions seemed instantaneous and miraculous—a gesture, a flash of light, a few spoken words—and then they were followers of Christ, paving their way to sainthood. But how realistic are these stories to an uneducated and poor Christian? How can one relate to an exceptional story depicted in an exceptional, otherworldly manner? It was for the eyes and salvation of the illiterate and poor Christian populace that the Council of Trent directed its attention to the veneration of sacred images, defining their purpose in a well-known 1563 decree. Sacred images not only needed to serve as memory aids and as Bibles for the illiterate, but also needed to touch and move the emotions of the viewer in a profound way. At the turn of the seventeenth century in Rome, one artist in particular fulfilled these objectives: Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (Fig. 1).

The sacred works of Caravaggio have long been under scrutiny. Many regard Caravaggio’s sacred works as expressions of Counter-Reformation ideology by drawing parallels between the artist’s images and his Roman exposure to ← 1 | 2 → the humility of the Oratorians, the Spiritual Exercises of the Jesuits, and the Augustinian light...

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