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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 6. Caravaggio’s Patrons and the Cultivation of Humility


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Caravaggio’s initial success with private patrons upon his arrival in Rome in 1592 only increased with his public debut in the Contarelli Chapel in 1599. From 1599 to 1606, the artist was consistently occupied with important public commissions for altarpieces, as well as lateral canvases for chapels. Nevertheless, he continued to receive private commissions from those patrons who had previously commissioned works from him in Rome, and from new patrons who were part of the same circle of prelates and collectors closely tied to Carlo Borromeo and the Oratorians. The number of private commissions Caravaggio received in these years not only confirms his reputation as the most excellent painter in Rome (as noted in the Cerasi Chapel contract of 1600), but also proves that the negative responses to the artist’s style put forth by his biographers hold little merit. As has been discussed in the previous chapter, Caravaggio’s straightforward approach to sacred images was consonant with the taste for the natural and with post-Tridentine prescriptions on the making of sacred paintings. His public canvases are both powerful and emotionally appealing—further evidence of the artist’s understanding of the intersection between art and devotion, narrative and icon.

Nonetheless, between 1598–1606, Caravaggio’s name appears in police records at least fourteen times, ranging from minor offences such as carrying a ← 215 | 216 → sword without a permit (4 May 1598), to assaulting a waiter (24 April 1604)...

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