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Caravaggio, Carracci and the boyz
The Genius of Rome (London)
Member Name: Sam H
The Genius of Rome (London)
Date: 15/03/01, updated on 15/03/01 (56 review reads)
Advantages: Excellent painting covering a vital period in the history of art
Disadvantages: I was hoping to find a few more Caravaggio originals
The Royal Academy has got it right with this show. The period depicted is an exciting one, covering the conception and birth of the Baroque period. There is a strong emphasis on painters' links with Caravaggio - many of the cards next to painting refer to the ways in which each painter is, or is not, "Caravaggesque". Seriously.
Caravaggio is a pivotal figure in the history of art. His enormous contribution was to extol the virtues of realism, in contrast to the idealised world of the Renaissance painters. His saints have dirty hands and world-weary expressions; people's faces are shown in odd contortions, and the emotion they express is not always obvious - as in real life. To some extent he represented an alternative path to the more conventional route taken by Carracci, his contemporary, although in some ways their visions converge. Carracci himself was by no means uncontroversial or conservative.
There are eight rooms in the exhibition, and the material is sensibly organised by theme. There are the still lifes, the holy families, the betrayal of Christs, and so on. It is clear how the works fit together and this clarity of conception makes it much harder to get tired out while walking round the exhibition. I often do, but this was an exception.
The show took me somewhere between 60 and 90 minutes to see. In that time I was able to look at every painting, read about three quarters of the cards (leaving out those that didn't interest me), and sit down for five minutes to take stock and leaf through my brochure. I strongly recommend doing this when visiting any gallery - the brain can only take so much, and if you don't then you will find that you stop taking an interest in the individual painting and just walk around the rooms mechanically.
I didn't get an audio guide - never do - so I can't comment on the quality of it. It is probably high, as the Royal Academy can usually be relied upon for thi
ngs like that. Personally, I find it restricting to listen to someone babbling on about what's in front of me - far more fulfilling to discover for oneself. But at the same time, you may prefer to be as well informed as possible when you look at an exhibition, and that is equally understandable. Go with your instinct.
As far as content goes, there are actually not all that many Caravaggio originals - perhaps one or two per room. Carracci features prominently, as do a couple of other important painters whose names I forget. Either way, one could not complain about the consistency of quality - most of the paintings there interested me in one way or another. The Caravaggios themselves are stunning, of course - the show is worth a visit just for them. Go while you can.
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