Early Modern Europe -- Caravaggio and His Two Cardinals by Creighton E. Gilbert

By Moir, Alfred | The Catholic Historical Review, April 1996 | Go to article overview

Early Modern Europe -- Caravaggio and His Two Cardinals by Creighton E. Gilbert


Moir, Alfred, The Catholic Historical Review


Caravaggio and His Two Cardinals. By Creighton E. Gilbert. (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press. 1995. Pp. xiii, 322.)

Many of the thirteen chapters of this book might well have been published as separate articles. However, as Professor Gilbert states in his preface, funding throughout them is the common thread of "the three paintings done by Caravaggio for the two Mattei brothers..." The brothers were the Marchese Ciriaco (1545-1614) and Cardinal Girolamo Mattei (1546-1603); the paintings are the Supper at Emmaus (in the National Gallery, London), the Taking of Christ (recently rediscovered in a Jesuit establishment in Dublin and now in the National Gallery of Ireland), and the picture formerly identified as Saint John the Baptist or Youth with a Ram (in the Capitoline Museum in Rome), which now has been established as representing the Pastor Friso or Paris the Phrygian Shepherd.

The second cardinal of the title (although the first of Caravaggio's princely patrons) was Francesco Maria Del Monte (1549-1626).

If Professor Gilbert has achieved nothing else in this book, he seems to have settled once and for all the question of the subject of the Capitoline painting: it is Paris, but not in his customary role as judge. Instead of appearing about to give the golden apple to Venus in preference to her two rivals, he is presented alone as the shepherd anticipating the reward for his choice--Helen. Thus the presence of the ram (rather than the innocent lamb which would be appropriate to Saint John) is justified: it is symbolic of the lust which will be satisfied by his choice.

Among Gilbert's other achievements is the effective rehabilitation of Gaspare Celio as a valid source of information about Caravaggio and his era. Gilbert has also reconstructed the biographies of Ranieri Del Monte and his sons, the scientist Guidobaldo and the cardinal. Unfortunately, the book was presumably already in the process of publication when Zygmunt Wazbinski's full and very well documented two-volume biography of the cardinal appeared, under the auspices of the Accademia Toscana di Scienza e Lettere "La Colombia" (Florence: Olschki, 1994).

Most importantly Gilbert has put together Cardinal Mattei's biography. He presents him as a major force in Caravaggio's career, supposing him to have been instrumental in inspiring both Mattei family patronage and the content of the painter's works. …

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