A bust of Pope Pius IX presided over a packed St Wilfred’s hall at the London Oratory, whilst Professor Maria Cristina Terzaghi, took the audience on a biographical tour of Caravaggio, and his work.
This event was very well attended, given the interest in his work on display at the National gallery currently. Professor Terzaghi pointed to Caravaggio’s unique style, developed throughout his apprenticeship in various workshops, and his enigmatic character that shaped some of the subject matter he painted.
She described how the two works of his, commissioned for the Contarelli Chapel in the church of San Luigi dei Francesi, ‘The martyrdom of Saint Matthew‘ and ‘The calling of Saint Matthew‘, delivered in the jubilee year of 1600, had caused an immediate sensation and had catapulted Caravaggio to become the ‘most famous painter in Rome’.
Professor Terzaghi gave insight into Caravaggio’s gift for distilling his own experiences into sacred imagery as seen in one of his last known paintings, ‘David and the head of Goliath‘. Caravaggio had given this as a gift in 1610 to Cardinal Scipione Borghese, nephew of Pope Paul VI, as part of his plea for a pardon from the Pope for his murder of a man in Rome.
It depicts a pensive rather than jubilant David holding the freshly severed head of Goliath, who’s face bears an uncanny resemblance of Caravaggio himself, and the sword in David’s hand carries the inscription H-ASOS; which has been interpreted as an abbreviation of the Latin phrase Humilitas occidit superbiam (“humility kills pride”).
You can discover more about the painter and his contemporaries in the exhibition ‘Beyond Caravaggio‘ which is on at the National gallery until the 15th of January 2017 https://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/whats-on/exhibitions/beyond-caravaggio.
The John Henry Newman Cultural Centre would like to thank Rev. Father Michael Lang, the Parish Priest of the London Oratory, and alI the Fathers of the Oratory, for their kind support of this event.