Caravaggio Could Be the Key to a New Detroit

July 1, 2014 6:17 PM

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One of the most striking works held in the Detroit Institute of Arts' formidable collection is Caravaggio's Martha and Mary Magdalene (c. 1598). A grand example of the artist's chiaroscuro style of intensely contrasted regions of darkness and light, the painting depicts a virtuous Martha's strenuous efforts to convince Mary to turn away from her libertine lifestyle and to embrace piety. The painting's classic religious conversion story roughly parallels the trajectory of the painter's art historical assessment. Brilliant but badly troubled, Caravaggio garnered fame in Rome, quickly and flamboyantly, died violently at age 38, and, despite having produced numerous commissioned works for rich patrons throughout Italy, disappeared from the radars of art historians and critics for three centuries and change. Not until the early 20th century would he be reborn through rediscovery.

Juxtaposing Caravaggio's reputational rebirth and Mary's spiritual rebirth makes for an intensified viewing. The one resonates with the other, amplifying the painting's punch. Alongside this aesthetic value, Martha and Mary Magdalene can also yield a strategic value to the city it calls home. Detroi...

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