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  • irishtimes.com - Posted: July 27, 2010 @ 9:20 pm

    I’ll Caravaggio You In A Minute

    Laurence Mackin

    Reading the news reports on Dermot Ahern’s Criminal Law (Defence and the Dwelling) Bill last week, I started to wonder what would be to hand should a burglar decide to climb through the window. I’m fairly low on gun and knife stocks at the moment, but what I do have weighing down my table is Andrew Graham-Dixon’s huge book, Caravaggio: A Life Sacred and Profane.

    You will no doubt know Graham-Dixon from his stints on the BBC’s excellent Culture Show, as art critic with the Sunday Telegraph and from his various other documentary series (his series on Spanish art was particularly strong). I think he’s a particularly good presenter and brings plenty of enthusiasm to bear, something which can often be lacking in arts coverage – mind you, when you can rely on the kind of budget the BBC seems to have, it can be easy to stir up your enthusiasm. The man chartered a helicopter for one Culture Show piece – a helicopter. Imagine sticking that one on expenses.

    But back to Caravaggio and the burglar bashing – this book is particularly good for fighting crime for two reasons. One, its enormous – at 500 pages, it would probably put a dent in anything it was bounced off, not to mention being thick enough to possibly stop bullets. Secondly, it’s about Caravaggio, a man who spent as much time getting into rows and drinking as he seems to have spent painting. And he spent most of his life living in fear of the authorities after killing a man in a duel.

    But is the book any good? Well, it took Graham-Dixon a decade to research and write it, so it’s exhaustive to say the least. Caravaggio is perhaps the original rock star, and Graham-Dixon does seem a little at pains to stay clear of the whoring and brawling that make such good copy and no doubt scandalized late 16th century Italian society in the same way that Heat magazine keeps the classes chattering today. What Graham-Dixon is strong at is tracing Caravaggio’s continuing influence, and he manages to rope Martin Scorsese in to write a few chapters on how you couldn’t have Taxi Driver and Mean Streets without The Calling of Matthew.

    Now that I’m finished this monster, I’m looking for some other arty biographical gems. Any suggestions? And if any burglars are not put off with the threat of flying books, please note – the neighbours are much better off than me.

    And speaking of Mean Streets, here’s Harvey and Bob doing their thing. Now that, my peeps, is an entrance.

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    • Richard McCullough says:

      “we’re not payin’. Cos this guy’s a mook.”

    • kynos says:

      That is a beautiful painting that Calling of Saint Matthew. And there’s Levi the tax collector sitting at the receipt of customs, head down as if counting the cash but if you look in close you’ll see the look of almost sardonic resignation, or is that stifled fear, in the set of the mouth and the eyes upturned looking from under the brows at the figure of Christ, visible only in chiaroscuro, substantial until the top of His cap disappears where the beam of light falls upon it. And Matthew’s cronies all about him, eyes wide open in wild surmised, eyebrows reaching into their hairline as one even points a disbelieving finger at Matthew as if to say “You mean HIM??!!!?”. Very nice thanks for that. Old Carravagio seems to have been a bit of a broth of a boy must confess I know nothing about him might pick up a copy of that book if I come across it in me wanders to add to the Matterhorn of books I’ve bought as a result of reading something or other in this website. Someday I might even get to finish them. One or ten anyway.

    • kynos says:

      Brendan Behan would doubtless have enjoyed a pint with Carravagio. Tho’ he was a fierce bully too was Behan. At least he bullied Paddy Kavanagh. In McDaid’s of Harry Street. More often than not. Sorry just woolgatherin here.

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