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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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Chapter 2. Carlo Borromeo’s Milan: Building Bridges to the Sacred via Word, Deed, and Image


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Building Bridges to the Sacred via Word, Deed, and Image

Born in 1571, Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio did not witness the upheaval caused by the Protestant Reformation, nor the Catholic Church’s response in the establishment and closing of the Council of Trent. Yet Caravaggio’s sacred images reflect a profound understanding of the debate central to the efficacy of images, which also defined the line separating the Protestant credo sola fide (faith alone) and the Catholic “faith and good works.” The relationships the artist established with ecclesiastical cardinal-patrons and religious orders during his sojourn in Rome from 1592 to 1606 is still considered instrumental in his awareness of Counter-Reformation prescriptions and devotion. Many scholars have directed their studies on the subject of Caravaggio’s sacred works as expressions of Counter-Reformation ideology. Those who see a positive correlation between these two seemingly anomalous subjects often draw parallels between Caravaggio’s sacred scenes and his Roman exposure to the spirituality of the Oratorians, the Spiritual Exercises of the Jesuits, the Augustinian light of grace, or a combination of these.1 One significant source of inspiration for Caravaggio’s formulation of a post-Tridentine sacred style, however, remains relatively unexamined. His fundamental understanding of the intersection between Counter-Reformation art and devotion occurred not in Rome, but in Lombardy, under the spiritual and pastoral aegis of Archbishop of Milan Carlo Borromeo (see Fig. 2).

← 49 | 50 → Although the influence of the Borromeo family on Caravaggio, particularly...

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