Author: Jacob Willer

Emotional Realism and The Enduring Art of Caravaggio

At a small auction house in Madrid there briefly appeared a very dark, very brown painting of Christ being presented to the people before his crucifixion: “ecce homo”, says Pilate—behold the man. A dirty old varnish obscures many of the painting’s finer details; but even so, art dealers around the world thought it might be something special—nothing at auction goes unnoticed now, in the Internet age—and they were plotting between themselves how best to snap it up. Their excessive enthusiasm helped to alert the Spanish authorities who quickly then pulled the painting out of the auction and slapped an export ban on it, pending further investigation. The dealers’ enthusiasm and the authorities’ caution will be justified, though, if the painting turns out as expected to be a lost original by Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (1571–1610), who has become by far the most popular of all old master painters. It is not so surprising that some of Caravaggio’s paintings should still be flying under the radar, because, even though he was extremely famous during his short …

Old Masters Remix: A review of ‘Life Death Rebirth’, the Michaelangelo/Bill Viola exhibition at the Royal Academy

The Royal Academy in London has mounted an exhibition with the very serious title of “LIFE DEATH REBIRTH,” putting video installations by the American artist Bill Viola (b.1951) together with some drawings by the Renaissance master Michelangelo (1475–1564). Museum curators have increasingly been foisting such juxtapositions on us, because it is their job to worry about how we should respond to art and right now it feels as if the Old Masters are losing their appeal. Their religious and mythological themes no longer seem so “relevant,” because the will, and the incentives, to understand them are gone. So this new curatorial strategy, which we might call the “Old Master Remix,” is contrived to bring in different crowds at once: a bit of fashionable Contemporary Art will help to cause a stir, while conferring relevance again on the old by showing how it happens to resemble the new. Equally, the most illustrious works of the past can help to confer a certain historical credibility on the contemporary artworks displayed alongside them—the association alone is enough to …