Here’s looking at you, kid . . Rome, ca. 1598

February 2, 2012 / Art & Archaeology
Rome, Lazio
Among the other incredible works of art visible at Palazzo Barberini is one (below) by Michelangelo Merisi, aka Caravaggio (in self-portrait here). While it might not be one of his most famous pieces, its impact upon viewers today (as well as those 400 years ago!) is really no less than that from his major canvases.

Here Caravaggio paints Narcissus from Greek mythology . . one of the great “cautionary” myths of antiquity. For not loving the nymph Echo back, he is damned! “May he who loves no one only love himself”. He sees his own reflection in a pool of water, falls in love with himself AND into the pool and drowns.

Caravaggio masterfully manages to tell Narcissus’ whole story with one single motif. A closed circle.. his gaze locked eternally and exclusively with his own . . within a world of his own making that rotates about himself as delineated by his knee and the boundary of his arms… to the exclusion of all else outside of that boundary (by simply keeping the outer area dark and empty).

And what about the irony of people gazing at a painting about a gaze at a gaze? Caravaggio was a sharp fellow… safe bet to assume that was intentional too.

Galleria Nazionale D’Arte Antica, at Palazzo Barberini, Via delle Quattro Fontane, 13.

GB

by GB Bernardini

Editor, Italian Notebook

12 Responses to “Here’s looking at you, kid . . Rome, ca. 1598”

  1. William Strangio

    GB:

    You did an interesting topic – as usual! Caravaggio
    was an interesting artist who still is not well
    known to the public, which is strange because he was
    really a artist who had a great effect on painters
    about the use of light. In addition the Barbarini
    Galleria for some reason doesn’t seem to get as many
    visitors as t should. There are many “knockout” pieces
    located there.

    Reply
  2. John Bellanti

    That is a wonderful painting. One interpretation of this myth has to do with positive narcissism. When he looked into the pond and saw his reflection, he thought it was someone else. An interpretation that sometimes gets lost because most of the time there is a negative interpretation of a narcissistic personality disorder. I marvel at the beauty of this painting. John B

    Reply
  3. Liz Musil

    I would enjoy seeing more like this, since I can’t be there…thanks!

    Reply
  4. Gian Banchero

    Is it my imagination but is the face in the pool somewhat brutto–ugly? Thanks GB for sharing this painting with us.

    Reply
  5. Giancarlos …
    Brilliant note from you today. Do you also believe there might be politicians on the national and international stage that could learn form your words?
    S & R

    Here Caravaggio paints Narcissus from Greek mythology . . one of the great “cautionary” myths of antiquity. For not loving the nymph Echo back, he is damned! “May he who loves no one only love himself”. He sees his own reflection in a pool of water, falls in love with himself AND into the pool and drowns.

    Reply
  6. Dante Bianchi

    Great job. Thank you. And for you readers who are interested in more Caravaggio while in Roma go to Santa Maria del Popolo and see two of his masterpieces (one of St. Peter’s crucixion and the other of the conversion of St. Paul, above a side altar. Amazing! Or go to San Luigi De Francsi, near the Piazza Navona and see two more, both of St. Matthew. Incredible! His life was quite short but full, very full, and he left us with stunning works. There is a new bio. of him, titled “Caravaggio – A Life Scared and Profane,” by Andrew Graham-Dixon. Excellent.
    Grazie dal cuore! Sono un proprio tifoso da Caravaggio.

    Reply
  7. The first time I was in Rome, one of my great joys was an unplanned stop at San Luigi de Francesi, one of the few churches that was open at lunch time. Caravaggio’s paintings of St. Matthew are breath taking.

    Reply
  8. Caravaggio, a pure tormented genius. His work is breathtakingly beautiful. I also find it strange that he is not better known. His study of light alone influenced so many artists, including Rembrandt that is well known for his chiaro-scuro effect.

    Reply
  9. Very interesting painting indeed, GB. I am intrigued by two details: (1) Is it only my imagination or is Narcissus’ right hand a bit disfigured? The back of his hand seems too “fat.” (2) More interestingly and following up on Gian Banchero’s comment, look carefully at the nose of the reflected Narcissus. Do you notice and extra ridge to the immediate right of the nose? I wonder if it’s supposed to represent a demon-like image of Narcissus, as though his falling in love with himself is actually demonic. Sure would be nice to get the inside scoop on the hidden messages in this great painting.

    Reply
  10. Angela Finch

    Surely the image in the water is Caravaggio himself. He is looking back and falling in love with his younger self.
    I am just guessing.
    Caravaggio is well-known in England. We just wish we were able to see more of his paintings over here.

    Thank you for including this painting in your Italiannotebook.

    Reply

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