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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 3. Canon Reformulation in the Age of Counter-Reformation


← 94 | 95 → ·3·


Before we can address Caravaggio’s activities and works in Rome, it is necessary to understand some of the primary Counter-Reformation Italian publications prior to his arrival there in 1592, for they too are related to Borromeo’s realm of influence. The Tridentine decree both validated and defended the function of images through their cultic role—rejecting outright the Protestant charge of idolatry—and their didactic and affective efficacy for the Catholic populace. The pronouncements from the final session of the Council of Trent also made clear that the church in Rome would not tolerate any doctrinal or artistic transgressions that would give the Protestants further reason to attack their cherished traditions regarding sacred images. The overt reformatory language in art writing of the period reflects this stance. In Lodovico Dolce’s 1557 dialogue L’Aretino, for example, the interlocutors debate at length the decorousness of Michelangelo’s Last Judgment.1 Similar issues of decorum appear in Giorgio Vasari’s 1568 edition of Lives.2 Vasari, for instance, adamantly made it known to his readers that he did not approve of flagrant nudity in works of art found in churches.3

The general nature of the Council of Trent’s decree on images also sparked the publication of a series of Counter-Reformatory treatises that addressed style in sacred painting, something that the Tridentine decree neglected to ← 95 | 96 → undertake.4 It is quite easy to dismiss Counter-Reformation treatises as determiners of style. There is certainly...

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