Judith and the Feud

03 Aug

Now for the TMZ version of art history.

As much as de Boulogne and many contemporaries emulated Caravaggio, there was another group of artists that despised him.  Baglione was “one of Caravaggio’s strongest personal adversaries in Roman artistic circles … His animosity toward Caravaggio is shown in almost every line of his biography.  On the other hand, [Baglione] was despised and derided by Caravaggio’s clique.  As an artist Baglione was, strangely enough, a follower of Caravaggio, especially in his use of light and dark.”(1)

What is the dealio?

The short story is: Carravaggio was a notorious bad boy and Baglione was a conservative wag.

Caravaggio was immensely talented and successful, but handled his personal life atrociously.  he was jailed repeatedly, frequently searched for fights, and ultimately had a death warrant issued for him by the Pope (2).  Artistically, his dramatic intensity was appreciated but his realism was seen by some as so vulgar that his art was sometimes rejected by those who commissioned it.   The Death of the Virgin commissioned for the Santa Maria della Scala was rejected by the Carmelites due to Mary’s bare legs — a matter of decorum.   The Grooms’ Madonna remained on a small altar in Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome for just two days before being removed when a cardinal’s secretary wrote: “In this painting there are but vulgarity, sacrilege, impiousness and disgust…One would say it is a work made by a painter that can paint well, but of a dark spirit, and who has been for a lot of time far from God, from His adoration, and from any good thought…”

On the other hand, Baglione was “old school” — painting from drawings and elevating the depiction of religious figures in a classic style — rather than representing street people as did Caravaggio.

The source of the rivalry between Caravaggio and Baglione is said to be a commissioned painting by Baglione, “Divine and Profane Love,” which was completed in a similar style and theme as Caravaggio’s “Amor Vincit Omnia.”  Caravaggio accused Baglione of plagiarism who then painted a second version, using Caravaggio’s face as the face of the devil (3).

Caravaggio, “Amor Vincit Omni,” c.1602, Oil on canvas, 113 x 156 cm, Gemäldegalerie, Berlin, Germany

Giovanni Baglione, “Sacred Love Versus Profane Love,” c.1602-1603, Oil on canvas, 240×143 cm, Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Antica, Rome, Italy

… in August of 1603 Baglione filed a suit for libel against Caravaggio, Orazio Gentileschi, Ottavio Leoni, and Filipo Trisegni in connection with some unflattering poems circulated around Rome over the preceding summer. Caravaggio’s testimony during the trial as recorded in court documents is one of the few insights into his thoughts about the subject of art and his contemporaries.  Caravaggio was found guilty and held in the Tor di Nona prison for two weeks after the trial (4).

The feud continued until Caravaggio’s death, after which the still perturbed Baglione wrote the first biography of Caravaggio in The Lives of Painters, Sculptors, Architects and Engravers (active from 1572–1642).

The painting shown is from Baglione’s Circle of students —

Baglione circle, “Judith,” 1608, sold by Beaussant & Lefèvre: 12/18/02 [Lot 21

(2) “Caravaggio’s Rap Sheet Reveals Him to have been a Lawless, Sword-Obsessed Wildman, and a Terrible Renter.”
(3) Andréa Fernandes, “Feel Art Again:’Amor Vincit Omnia,’
(4) Catherine Puglisi, Caravaggio. Phaidon, 1998. pp. 224–223

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Posted by on August 3, 2011 in Gory


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