No murder is beautiful, yet Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (1571-1610) has depicted brutal beauty in his paintings. Caravaggio himself was incorrigible criminal who had been imprisoned many times. His short tempered character got him into even a murder.
Despite troubles, imprisonment, escape to Sicily; Caravaggio never lost enthusiasm to paint. He has produced remarkable paintings with an obsession to depict decapitation. More importantly, Caravaggio did not care about ideal beauty, while his Renaissance counterparts represented beauty in its ideal form as flawless and perfect. Rather than copying of the classics, Caravaggio revealed cruelty in beauty. He transformed beauty in a way that nothing even a murder can overshadow its impact. Isn’t it actual beauty that standstills in spite of tyranny, homicide and poverty? Let’s take a look at how Caravaggio represented beauty in his significant pieces:
- Madonna di Loreto: Virgin Mary welcomes two poor pilgrims with naked Jesus in her arms. The point is, the feet of pilgrim are also bare suggesting their equality with the Virgin. First thing one might be dazzled would be two opposite forms of the beauty:One is young Mary who has blushed cheekbones, a gentle neck and nicely positioned of feet. However, on the other side, woman pilgrim looks quite old, poor and filthy. Nevertheless, prominent facial features and long eyelashes on the pilgrim suggest that she is beautiful, although she is wretched.
- The Beheading of the St John the Baptist: This painting is widely accepted as masterpiece of Caravaggio. The bloody scene does not prevent us to notice beauty of the woman on the left holding a golden bowl that the head will be placed in. In contrast with the old woman who is about to cry out, the young one looks indifferent, strong and honorable. This opposition reveals that beauty does not mean only celestial features attributed to human, but also strength and cruelty.
- Young Sick Bacchus: It is almost impossible to feel that Bacchus is sick in this piece. His green flesh, grey lips, and dark under-eyes are unable to conceal the youth and elegance of Bacchus, as mouth watering grapes that he holds still look bright despite a few crumpled dark grapes.
- Judith Beheading Holofernes: According to description from The book of Judith, Judith has seduced Holofernes for the sake of her people. However, beuaty is not hidden in the seduction and pleasure. Caravaggio thought that beauty that deserved to paint was decapitation of Holofernes. It is difficult to resist power and elegance of Judith. She is beautifully dressed, although this is a death scene. Her distance to the victim and nervous lips suggest that she does what she has to do, not what she wants, as if she is ready to forgive him if she hesitates one second.
Well, but what does Caravaggio tell us? Caravaggio has shown us that killing someone is a repulsive act, even to a murderer, but real beauty does not lose its form in any case such as poverty, sickness or homicide. And he leaves a question mark there, maybe these are the times when beauty and elegance are revealed?