Caravaggio and Carlo Borromeo
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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