Masterpiece of light and darkness appears at Speed Museum - WDRB 41 Louisville News

Masterpiece of light and darkness appears at Speed Museum

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Louisville is now the temporary home of an international masterpiece.  1416 years after it was created, it took only eight and a half minutes to unpack a masterpiece at the Speed Art Museum.

As workers uncrated the priceless painting, the journey from Italy was complete for The Fortune Teller -- done in 1595 by the great Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio. It had been watched nearly every step of the way by the curator of Rome's Capitoline Museums, Sergio Guarino. "I really appreciate what the Kentucky museum has done for the trip of the Caravaggio painting," he said. "We...don't loan this painting so easily...So we are really happy that the painting is here in this wonderful museum."

The Speed's Curator, Ruth Cloudman, explains, "Well, he's one of the great figures, one of the geniuses of Western art." 

The Speed staff watched as the gallery wall was hung with one of the most important paintings ever to come to Louisville.

Cloudman describes it: "It's a couple that's met on the streets of Rome, and it's a young gypsy girl and a sort of dandified young man. She has reached over and taken his hand, and she's reading the palm as she slips his gold ring from his finger, unbeknownst to him...We're in on the joke, and there's something lighthearted and witty about this, but it's really a moral tale about deception and the foolishness of youth."

What you might not be able to tell, just looking at the painting, is that the man who created it was half genius and half hell-raiser.  Caravaggio was by all accounts a hot-tempered, violent, paranoid man -- a brawler, arrested time after time, even wanted for murder.

He was just 39 when he died in 1610, a fugitive with a price on his head, after having become one of the most celebrated painters in Rome.

And then, Caravaggio was virtually forgotten for 350 years. Only in the mid-20th century was he rediscovered and credited with creating a radical naturalism in painting, contrasted with the artificiality of religious art.

Cloudman says, "He didn't paint gods and goddesses or idealized religious figures. In fact, some of the religious paintings that he did for the Church were rejected because they were just too real."

For his models, he often employed prostitutes and street people.  And he captured light and shadow as no one had done before.  "And that was one of his great breakthroughs," Cloudman says.  "It's called in Italian 'chiaroscuro,' which means light-and-dark. And he used it to tremendous dramatic and narrative effect."

With a few brushes, some paint, squares of canvas, and the ingredient of genius, this recorder of miracles created the miracle of art.

As one historian put it: what begins in the work of Caravaggio is, quite simply, modern painting.

The painting's on display at the Speed until June 5th.

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