Caravaggio and Carlo Borromeo
Chapter 7. Scaling the Ladder to the Divine with Bare Feet
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SCALING THE LADDER TO THE DIVINE WITH BARE FEET
Tra devoto et profano
The profundity of Caravaggio’s Roman works, both public and private, points to an acute awareness of Franciscan thought, one I have suggested was filtered through the impression made on the young Caravaggio by Archbishop of Milan Carlo Borromeo. The artist’s sacred paintings are informed by the example of Saint Francis’s humility, piety, and love of nature, which was reinforced by the contemporary model of Carlo Borromeo, who emulated the saint in his humility, devotional practices, and belief in the edification of all, as God’s creatures. After Carlo’s death in 1584, his memory was perpetuated by his closest friends, including Paleotti, the Oratorians, and Caravaggio’s cardinal-patrons. Borromeo’s ideas and practices in modes of exterior devotion, particularly his reputation of meditating before realistic images, inflected Caravaggio’s formulation of a post-Tridentine sacred style: one that appeased the church and spoke to the emotions of all Christians—particularly the unlettered, general populace—through the intersection of devotion and art, or the sacred and profane.
The decree “On the Invocation, Veneration, and Relics of Saints, and on Sacred Images,” formulated at the twenty-fifth session of the Council of ← 239 | 240 → Trent, explicitly proscribed the exhibition of anything profane in sacred images. The decree’s generality, however, left a lot of room for expansion and clarification, which both Borromeo and Paleotti fulfilled in their respective treatises on sacred architecture and painting. The definition...
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