Art history survey, 14th century to the present, closing with a research paper on any topic. Early on, I considered O’Keeffe, then I considered Lee Krasner. Then we ran into the Baroque with all its drama. And that led us to Caravaggio. I waffled for quite a while. There was always Goya, who I’d loved forever and whose research paper would write itself. There’s that whole boatload of impressionists – i really don’t know enough about Cezanne, and what about Gauguin? And of course Mary Cassatt. It was about this point that I realized I’ve been studying art history my entire life, and I didn’t know it. But I stuck with Caravaggio, simply because I didn’t know enough about him.

And I think I did right, learning the times he lived in, and the crazy way artists were living there and then. That line from Howl – “who ate fire in paint hotels or drank turpentine in Paradise Alley, death, or purgatoried their torsos night after night” seems to paint C’s life in words. Who really cares if Caravaggio hated Michelangelo and his perfect people – it’s the work itself that counts in the end. Look at this, his last painting;

David and Goliath, 1610, oil on canvas, Galleria del Borghese

Caravaggio presented this painting to the pope as part of a petition for clemency; he had fled Rome after being accused of murder. Wild rumors abound; that both faces are Caravaggio’s, that the younger one is Caravaggio’s young lover from ten or so years before. I go with the second; look at that bitter pain on David’s face, killing the monster who was his lover.

The petition was successful, and Caravaggio was on his way home when more of his life-long habit of finding chaos left him sleeping on a beach one night, catching a fever and dying, ending buried in an unmarked grave.

The boy himself.

Amor vincit omnia, c. 1601, oil on canvas Gemaeldegalerie, Berlin