Last 25th of August we had the honor of being invited by Through Eternity, historical company designing cultural itineraries in Italian art cities, to take part in one of their guided tours in Rome and to evaluate it through our eyes. We’d like to share this experience with our readers so you could get useful information about consciously choosing a guided tour of Rome artistic treasures.
Among the varied cultural tours offered, we decided to test the Caravaggio in Rome group tour because we appreciate the unusual topic and the different approach to the visit: instead of touring different renowned places related to a period or an area, this thematic route crosses specific landmarks in order to recreate a tangible story to tell along the way, studded with consistent historic events and lesser known artworks, brought back to life.
With a small group of visitors, we uncovered the dramatic art of Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (Milan?, 1571 – Porto Ercole?, 1610) guided by Caterina Panetta, a very pleasant and knowledgeable local art historian graduated at Roma Tre University with a thesis on women painters in the Baroque period.
The itinerary lasted 3 hours and lingered over 4 main landmarks displaying 9 important paintings by Caravaggio, which were deeply analyzed through Caterina’s interesting and clear explanations. This journey through the historic center of Rome also gave the visitors an opportunity to enjoy sightseeing, walking by some of the highlights of the Eternal City like the Trevi Fountain, the Temple of Hadrian in piazza di Pietra, the Pantheon and Ara Pacis Augustae (with a gelato stop!).
The most significant aspect for us was the possibility to observe several paintings by the same artist in a close-up sequence, so that Caravaggio’s life and artistic interwoven paths could be visually understandable and directly appreciable, also through a fruitful historic connection with other noteworthy artworks which were shown alongside them, dating back to a near period.
In this way, the impressive impact of this revolutionary and talented artist on the history of art was unveiled. In particular, we followed the footsteps of the tormented Caravaggio while he was in Rome between the 16th and the 17th centuries and triggered that epic change in the traditional artistic language destined to influence generations of artists in the whole Europe. For the first time, a painter became renowned for his masterful ability to accurately depict a more authentic reality which featured people inspired from the common life, who were raised to the heights of his art, even to represent sacred scenes, showing the weakest side of the human nature, the ignorance, the poverty, the vices, the imperfections. The bodies, the expressive gesture and intense glances emerged from the deep shadows of plain locations and absorbed a new, tangible consistency.
At Palazzo Barberini, the strong contrast between light and darkness dramatically revealed the harsh feelings and unyielding cruelty of Judith beheading Holofernes, painted in a period that highlighted the artist’s evolution from the lighter juvenile backgrounds to the somber gloom and violent chiaroscuro contrasts of his mature paintings. Contrasts that heavily marked even his own personal life: sublime painter able to portray the most heart-felt and humble religious episodes as well as beautiful angels flying wrapped in their creased draperies, fluttering as if they were real, he was also the troubled man frequently involved in fights and problems with the justice, until he killed Ranuccio Tommasoni during a browl in 1606. From that serious event, he was compelled to escape from Rome and begun his tragic journey prematurely ended in his 39th year of age on a beach on his way back to Rome, the Eternal City he never reached anymore.
Some further advices
If you don’t feel trained, take advantage of the available seats while you’re at the Barberini museum to save energies for the following long walk; be sure to wear comfortable shoes and suitable clothes with covered knees and shoulders as you’ll enter churches and bring a water bottle and a hat if you’re planning a trip in the summer heat.
We would also suggest our readers who don’t have any knowledge of Caravaggio but who are interested in taking this tour, to read up an introduction to the artist’s life and artistic milieu before, in order to immerse yourselves in the intense and conflicting mood of Caravaggio’s life in Rome forthwith (get a brief overview on the Met website or check an in-depth and free resource you could add to your personal preparation).
PS: All Milestone Rome’s opinions are and will always be genuine.