Leseprobe

14 T here is much to suggest that the circumstances of viewing the Capitoline Saint John the Baptist (Fig. 1) in the Dresden exhibition do not differ fundamentally from those experienced by Caravaggio’s contemporaries. 1 Even in the home of its first owner in Rome, Marchese Ciriaco Mattei, it would have hung in a room alongside other contemporary paintings. 2 And, then as now, it is likely that the picture by the young painter from Lombardy, who had been working in Rome for about ten years, attracted the special interest of the viewers. For in 1602, the year the marchese most likely bought it from Caravaggio, the artist had already made a name for himself with numerous much-discussed paintings in the collections of Roman aristocrats and had recently caused a sensation among a wider public with his first chapel decoration. The “romore” stirred up by the paintings in the Contarelli Chapel in the Roman church of San Luigi dei Francesi was recorded by the first viewers. 3 Even if the marchese’s collection of paintings in his palazzo in Via delle Botteghe Oscure was not open to the public like today’s museums and exhibitions, Ciriaco Mattei seems to have been keen to show his new acquisition to as many art lovers as possible. There can be no other explanation for the proliferation of paintings of Saint John that openly reference Cara­ vaggio’s picture (Figs. 18–22) by artists working in Caravaggio’s immediate and wider circle. 4 The fact that Caravaggio’s paintings in the Mattei collection also caused quite a “stir” ( romore ) among those who saw them was noted by the painter’s first biographer, Giovanni Baglione. 5 THE SPAT IAL AND S I TUAT IONAL CONTEXT OF THE PAINT ING What makes the initial reception of Caravaggio’s Saint John in the setting of a private collec- tion so remarkable is that it was still comparatively new in Rome around 1600. While reli- gious paintings in the secular context of a private home had a long tradition, their purpose until then had been primarily religious; they served to inspire acts of private devotion. Over the course of the 16th century, an unparalleled boom of religious paintings in the secular context led to a widening of the definition of their purpose and, with it, to new forms and practices of their reception. These pictures were now considered “collectable” – a status that had previously been accorded primarily to antique sculptures as well as predominantly small-format objects brought together in collections of art and naturalia. 6 Typically executed on canvas and intended for the profane spaces of a palazzo , these “mobile” religious paintings ( quadri ) often featured life-size figures and treated subjects taken from both the New and Old Testament: Saints such as Nicolas Régnier’s Dresden Saint Sebastian (p. 88, Fig. 11), Old Tes- tament heroes such as Guido Reni’s David with the Head of Goliath (Fig. 2), and scenes from the Passion such as Leonello Spada’s Christ at the Column (p. 66, Fig. 8) typify the religious images produced for the burgeoning picture collections of Roman aristocrats and wealthy citizens. 7 Gradually – the dynamics differed from one region to the next – new “profane” subjects were added: still lifes, landscapes, and what we now describe as “genre pictures”. Fig. 1 CARAVAGGIO SAINT JOHN THE BAPT I ST 1602 Rome, Capitoline Museums

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