Friday, March 12, 2010


Caravaggio, Medusa, 1598-99

One of my students brought my attention to this recent article in the New York Times. The article highlights a new argument by Philip Sohm, an art historian at the University of Toronto. Sohm believes that people aren't as interested in the Renaissance artist Michelangelo anymore - instead, people have shifted their interest to Caravaggio. Sohm has charted interest in Caravaggio and Michelangelo through the number of scholarly publications over the past fifty years, and the number of writings about Caravaggio have gradually overtaken those about Michelangelo. Sohm calls this new phenomenon "Caravaggiomania" - and as a Baroque scholar who loves Caravaggio, I think that term is awesome.

Sohm thinks that art history doctoral students are having difficulty finding new and innovative things to say about Michelangelo. I don't doubt this is the case. Michelangelo and the Renaissance period have been beaten to death for centuries in terms of research - but I do think that new interpretations and fresh scholarship can still rise up in the 21st century. I just wonder where Renaissance scholarship can go for new and fresh ideas. I've been thinking about this quite recently, actually, ever since I read heidenkind's post about her difficulty in finding great publications about Donatello.

Sohm's Caravaggio argument is timely, particularly since this year celebrates the 400th anniversary of the artist's death. There are a lot of huge celebrations and events taking place to honor Caravaggio this year, including a major exhibition that is currently on display at the Scuderie del Quirinale in Rome. This exhibition is bringing together Caravaggio paintings from all over the world - you can see a list of the paintings at the bottom of this Italian website. Other events have also taken place in preparation for this show, such as the public restoration of Adoration of the Shepherds. How I wish that I could go to Rome and celebrate this summer!

Anyhow, because of these celebrations, there undoubtedly has been Caravaggiomania over the past couple of months and years. Here's the question that I would pose to Sohm: How many publications and writings have occurred recently because of the preparations for this celebration? Is it possible that we will see a decline in Caravaggiomania next year, once all of the celebrations have ended?