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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 7. Scaling the Ladder to the Divine with Bare Feet


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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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