Specialist Options

Caravaggio for the 21st Century

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Course Description

The scholarly literature on Caravaggio, already outsized two decades ago, has grown exponentially in recent years.  It poses a 'Caravaggio conundrum' as one recent publication put it (Pericolo and Stone, 2014).  Public interest in the artist is at an all-time high, leading to a constant stream of temporary exhibitions, some of dubious value to the public and the academic community alike. The public perception of Caravaggio's art as erotic and socially rebellious increasingly diverges from the picture formed by scholarly discoveries.  In turn, the sheer volume of writing on Caravaggio has induced a kind of amnesia in new scholarship, which at times ignores information already published.  Caravaggio scholarship has become 'Balkanized', with art historians of different nationalities seeming to ignore the work published outside their own language. Perhaps this situation in Caravaggio studies is indicative of the present moment in the history of art overall.  We aspire toward a global art history, but lack the local tools with which to create it.  The course will thus focus on Caravaggio's paintings, their Roman context and their impact on subsequent art, but will also use his oeuvre and the literature on it to pose questions about historiography, reception studies, cultural translation, as well as new and old modes of interpretation. We will not study Caravaggio in isolation.  His contrasts and affinities with other key artists of the 16th and 17th century will lead us into the wider landscape of Seicento arts.  The central questions of the course will be: can we find forms of contextualization and historical analysis, grounded in the long tradition of Caravaggio scholarship?  And will new models for the deep reading of individual artworks offer more rigor than those used in the past? How will we determine the value and relevance of new interpretations? 

 

Good reading knowledge of Italian is a prerequisite for the course, and priority will be given to students who have a second modern European language such as German, French or Spanish, or are willing to acquire one during the course of the year.  If we are successful in obtaining money from the Courtauld for a study trip, we will spend 3-4 days in Rome and Naples to study Caravaggio's paintings there at first hand.

Language and other requirements

Standard Entry Requirements - Languages recommended but not required: Good reading knowledge of Italian is a prerequisite for the course, and priority will be given to students who have a second modern European language such as German, French or Spanish, or are willing to acquire one during the course of the year.