“The Denial of St. Peter”

Caravaggio, "The Denial of St. Peter" 1610. Oil on canvas. (The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York)
Caravaggio, “The Denial of St. Peter” 1610. Oil on canvas. (The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York)

 

Today my wonderful husband took me on my perfect date – a special exhibition at LACMA titled “Bodies and Shadows: Caravaggio and His Legacy.” What makes special exhibitions worth the slightly higher museum entry is the amount of work on loan from other museums and collections  that is now on your doorstep. It’s like paying 20 bucks for a round the world plane ticket. So when the art comes to you – take advantage! I know I’ve posted about Caravaggio already, but I think he is worth a repeat. Part of what is so fun about teaching is that I have the opportunity to learn just as much as my students do. Until I decided to use his artwork as an example of the plays of light and dark (chiaroscuro, tenebrism, theatricality, etc.) my knowledge on the Italian machismo was rather limited. I knew he was an anti-hero, one of those brilliant, tortured types who just so happened to be a murderer. Yet I think what makes his work rather infamous is its accessibility. Certainly we are drawn in by the light: surges of electricity in a sea of black night, but even more than that – we are the figures in his work. Strip away the theatrics, the intense shadows the almost violent (but perfect) rendering of flesh and cloth, and we are left with honest, ugly, beautiful human drama. The judgement in this woman’s eyes – haven’t we all delivered that blow? The accusatory gesture of the soldier might as well be our own hand. And Peter – the pain and awareness, the tears of shame falling from his eyes at the same moment he speaks those dreaded words. I wonder if anyone but Caravaggio, someone who had to face his own demons daily could get this one right. Interestingly enough, this biblical scene was painted in the last months of Caravaggio’s tragically short life (he was just 39 years old.)

 

If you’re in the neighborhood – the exhibition closes February 10th! But LACMA’s permanent collection is definitely worth the trip regardless!

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