Caravaggio’s Rage

For Christmas, I like to give each of my kids an “experience,” and yesterday Molly and I finally had some time to go throw axes. Neither of us had ever been- it was a blast! When I booked the tickets, I saw the same place also offers Rage Sessions, so I tacked that on too, even though Molly and I are a couple of the most rage-free people you’ll ever meet. Sometimes chill people need to unleash their suppressed rage more than anybody though, don’t you think? And rage we did.

Are we smiling under those helmets? Wouldn’t you like to know!

Our venting session got me thinking about aggression and how people cope with it. Some people go to rage rooms, some punch pillows, some sign up for kickboxing… and some people paint. Take Caravaggio for instance.

Here is a guy who had some pent up anger, and the history books chronicled all of it. He was a notorious gambler, thief, slanderer, and oh yeah- murderer. Many of his arrests were for throwing temper tantrums. Like the time he threw a plate of artichokes at the waiter, who famously replied, “Yeah? Well, your art makes me choke!” Haha. What’s not funny are his more serious crimes, like beating a man with a stick, attacking another man with a sword, and killing another while mutilating him.

But man, could he could paint.

As in his daily life, Caravaggio did not shy away from violence in his paintings. Arguably his most graphic painting is Judith Beheading Holofernes.

Ew. I’m sorry, guys. I made it tiny so it wouldn’t be so “in your face.” (Accidental pun!)

Gross. I know. But look at what he does with the light on Holofernes’ arms and chest! It was revolutionary for the time. Say what you will about Caravaggio, but he led the artists’ charge toward light and shadows. The emotion (or lack thereof) on Judith’s face is super intriguing as well. She only looks a little bothered by the situation. Incidentally, there was another version of this painting that many experts think Caravaggio also did, discovered in 2014. The Judith in that painting is significantly more disturbed.

Caravaggio painted some other beheadings too. Several, actually. (Heehee. Sever-al? I’m just trying to lighten the mood.) There’s The Beheading of Saint John, Salome with the Head of John the Baptist, David with the Head of Goliath, and Medusa. To name a few. But I can’t include them here. I have a rule about posting only one graphic painting per blog entry. Just instated that rule this very moment. Instead, I will give you a lighter, Caravaggio.

Confession: I didn’t know “cardsharp” was a term. I had only heard “card shark,” which is a derivative of “cardsharp”!

I would like to make the argument that this painting still jives with our theme. In this scene we are witnesses to the moment before rage. Everyone looks chill now, but so did Molly and I before we entered our Rage Session. Someone in this painting is about to Lose. Their. Cool. My money is on the boy being cheated. Again, Caravaggio illuminates the situation beautifully. Even though it’s one of his earliest works, he has already proven he can do magical things with light.

For a guy so good at painting light, he sure did walk a dark path through life. Lucky for us, he was a fast painter and prolific. In his 36 years, he painted at least 80 pieces (probably more). Even if he did have as many arrests under his belt as he did paintings, we have him to thank for influencing greats like Rembrandt, Peter Paul Reubens, and Vermeer. He may have been a bad boy, but he had so much talent, you might say it’s criminal.

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