Who is your guide?

By Vita Forest


Literature or Guidebook?

How do you decide what to do in a new place?  Who is your guide?

Years ago, my uncle’s partner told me about their recent trip to Spain.  Rather than trying to see a little bit of everything, they had taken an intriguing approach to their sightseeing.  Being art-lovers, they had honed in on Picasso and made his art and life the focus of their trip.  They had researched various important locations and artworks before they left and plotted their trip according to their findings.  This allowed them to luxuriate in Picasso’s art while discovering new places through their connection to this one artist.

I once made a Caravaggio tour of Rome.

I had read Peter Robb’s fabulous book M about the painter Caravaggio.  With limited time in Rome (and traveling with others with limited interest in the whole art thing), I decided to make seeing Caravaggios my priority.  But not the still lives, or his portraits of luscious youths, I would focus on his grand paintings of biblical scenes, housed mainly in chapels around Rome.

This had a number of benefits – popping into a chapel to get a quick Caravaggio fix was less taxing for small children than walking through an entire museum, entry was generally free and they were located near other tourist sites.  So after a stroll down the Spanish Steps, why not potter down to the Piazza del Popolo and to see Caravaggio’s depiction of St Peter and St Paul at the Cerasi chapel in Santa Maria del Popolo?  By shrewd planning and with the added incentive of plenty of gelato, I was able to walk the streets where Caravaggio lived and worked and fought and killed…   I was able to get a sense of how small and claustrophobic his Roman world was, before he was forced to flee it.

I had probably read Robb’s book because of an incident from back in my backpacking days.  While travelling around Europe, I had happened upon his amazing painting The Beheading of St John the Baptist in the Scrovegni chapel in Padua.  We were there to check out the Giotto frescoes, but these barely registered once I had caught sight of the Caravaggio.  It was just luck; it was not usually in that chapel.  It was simply being displayed there briefly after having undergone some restoration work, before being returned to its usual home on Malta.  I probably sat for over an hour in front of this large artwork, digesting the quiet drama of this arresting scene.  I was hooked.

There is something very modern about Caravaggio’s work, the people look real and the action is immediate.  There are no sweet soft cherubs floating in hazy soft focus, there is gritty street-smart realism, which looks like it was painted yesterday.  The bodies are usually anchored by a single dramatic light source that gives the scenes a theatrical quality.  In fact, Caravaggio was known to have spent quite some time examining where the paintings would be hung and how the light fell in that setting, incorporating these details into his paintings.

I would highly recommend a Caravaggio tour of Rome.

Have you ever done something similar?






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