- Rachael Cloughton
- 5 July 2017
The followers of this Great Master take the spotlight in this blockbuster exhibition
Caravaggio isn't an artist that needs more exposure – his status as one of the greatest old master painters is as secure as his notoriety; if you know his work you'll likely also know he was a murderer and spent the latter years of his short life (he died at 39) as a fugitive. This exhibition offers a refreshing departure from the familiar narrative - audiences are invited to look at Caravaggio's work not through his biography but through the much broader sphere of its influence.
As a result, there are only four works in this show that are actually by Caravaggio, the other 43 are made up of his 'followers' - 30 artists from the 16th and 17th centuries with works taken from collections across the world. In some pieces the influence of Caravaggio is immediate and direct, such as A Musician, (Conjurer) by Cecco del Caravaggio. This is unsurprising; Cecco was Caravaggio's assistant, model and possibly lover. Whereas in others, like Georges de la Tour's The Cheat with the Ace of Clubs, we can't be sure the artist had even seen Caravaggio's work in the flesh. Yet it's without doubt La Tour heard about the artist's innovations – painting from life and depicting 'real' scenes, such as pictures of gambling, was otherwise unprecedented.
The show risks encouraging audiences to appreciate works by how closely they match Caravaggio's style, but the best works are by the artists who refuse to be mere copyists. The strong contrast between light and dark in Jusepe de Ribera's Lamentation over Dead Christ, or Artemisia Gentileschi's Susannah and the Elders, framed so that the audience feels drawn into the scene – these are truly Caravaggesque techniques, but are not instantly comparable to the master. Caravaggio is the seductive headliner of this exhibition, but many of the highlights are elsewhere and the artists masters in their own right.
Beyond Caravaggio, Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh, until Sun 3 Sep.