Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Caravaggio in Malta

It was a great and very pleasant surprise for me to find Caravaggio’s The Beheading of Saint John the Baptist at St. John’s Cathedral in Valetta, Malta.  
Caravaggio (Michelangelo da Caravaggio) is one of my favourite painters, well known for his radical naturalism and turbulent life.  He killed someone and fled to Malta, which was controlled by the Knights Hospitaller (Order of Knights of the Hospital of Saint John of Jerusalem).  Caravaggio was inducted into the Order and the Knights commissioned him to make the huge oil painting (12 ft by 17 ft) for the altar.  It is now hanging in the Oratory in the Cathedral.  It is considered Caravaggio’s masterpiece. We were not allowed to take photographs of the painting.  But I found one from Wikipedia.   

The painting attracted a lot of interest and questions.  The attention of the viewer is drawn to the executioner rather than Saint John the Baptist.  There is relatively little blood considering that Saint John’s throat has already been cut, even though he has yet to be beheaded.  Only one of the persons in the painting expressed horror, presumably at the injustice committed.  Some think that the woman expressing horror is Herodia.  Caravaggio signed his name in the blood, believed the only time that he has signed his painting.  

Later on, Caravaggio was imprisoned in one of the forts on Malta.  He died in Tuscany at the age of 38.  

My wife and I spent a lot of time staring at the painting, and listening to the local tour guide explaining to us the painting.  

The outside of the church gives little indication of the glittering, extravagant  gold inside. The extremely rich decoration hints at how rich the Knights were.  

The ceiling was also richly-painted.  The painted-on shadows make some of the figures look three-dimensional.  

Many people were buried beneath the church.  Many of them important members of the order.  

For such a small place, Malta is really quite interesting.  

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