Visiting the Met: Caravaggio

If you love visiting the great art museums (who does not?), then do not miss seeing the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. On a recent, first time visit to the Met I found it to be as advertised – the entire world history of art, all in one place.

Main hall of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City,
with the 5th Ave. entrance to the left.

The main reason I went to the Met was to see the European paintings of the 16th to 18th centuries. After purchasing my ticket – the cost of which is any amount you wish to donate – I went straight up the main stairwell, across the corridor, through two glass doors and found my way into gallery 621 to experience, for the first time, two Caravaggio oil paintings.

Google Art Project not withstanding, I had never been that close to one, let alone two. Quite a thrill to be in the presence of the works themselves after seeing them in books and documentaries for so many years. Not many Caravaggio paintings live in the United States, so I knew this visit was going to be special.

"The Musicians"

So much went on in such a short time in Caravaggio's life, my head was spinning looking at these works, as I tried to put them in the context of their time. From the above painting in the early part of his career when he was the darling of Rome's art scene – to the painting below, done in the last years of his life when he was a fugitive in Southern Italy trying to paint his way out of trouble as the Knights of Malta hunted him down.

"The Denial of Saint Peter"

Only about 15 years separate these works, but, oh so much happened to him in that time! You can totally see the effect those years had on his style by looking up close at these works in the Met.

All through his career however, he was a master of the cropped composition – cutting his subjects off midway while keeping the crowded picture plane filled with movement and intrigue, making us the viewer, as much a part of the action as the subjects themselves.

If you are planning a trip to the Met, or any great museum, I suggest doing all the research you can on what specific pieces you need to see. Also learn which specific galleries those works hang in before you visit. That will make your experience in front of the works themselves, all the more enjoyable.

The Met is a vary busy place – it's now open seven days a week, yet suprisingly the European painting galleries were not crowded. Here's a travel tip: Visit on a Monday like I did. Tuesday the population seemed to double. Click here to plan your next visit to the Met.

In the case of Caravaggio, click here, to consider a great read by the art historian Andrew Graham-Dixon.

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