By Alte Pinakothek, Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen
Alte Pinakothek, Bavarian State Painting Collections
»For Rome, more than other places, is the city that is often the goal of the painter’s journey, being the head of the schools of painting.«
Karel van Mander, Het schilder-boeck, 1604
In 1600, Rome was the cultural centre of the world. The growing metropolis attracted artists and architects from all over Europe. Among them were the painters from Utrecht, Hendrick ter Brugghen, Gerard van Honthorst, and Dirck van Baburen. They studied the art of antiquity in the city as well as masterpieces of the Renaissance. What fascinated them the most, however, were the revolutionary innovations taking place in contemporary painting at the time. They followed the call of Karel van Mander, a Flemish art historian known for his lives of the artists who, in 1604, reported in his ‘Schilder-boeck’ (Book of Painters) on the ‘wonderful things’ that a certain Caravaggio was doing in Rome.
Caravaggio was considered a passion-driven firebrand whose work marked a radical departure from the painterly traditions of the past. With new subjects, a degree of naturalism unknown at that time, and startling contrasts between light and dark, his works polarized and unsettled his audience. What a shock it must have been for the young artists to stand before his paintings for the first time.
The many artists that flocked to Rome from all points of the compass lived in the same districts, and many of them shared the same lodgings. These young men all saw the same things: Caravaggio’s paintings, as well as those by his predecessors and contemporaries. Inspired by the innovative art they encountered, they adapted the contrasting, realistic style of painting for which Caravaggio and his successors, the so-called Caravaggisti, are so famous today.
These young artists came from a variety of cultural backgrounds. They had trained under different masters, in disparate styles and had their own personal goals and expectations of their time abroad. Their interpretations of subjects and how they processed their impressions in their art vary considerably.
Ter Brugghen, Honthorst, and Baburen returned from Italy to their home town, where they enjoyed great success and influenced succeeding generations with works that typically combined a Caravaggesque pictorial language with their own painting traditions.
The paintings on exhibit were made at the height of European Caravaggism, between 1600 and 1630. The arrangement of the works in sections according to subject not only reveals the similarities between the Caravaggisti who worked in Rome during the same period, but also highlights the differences between regional painting traditions.