Martyrdom of Saint Matthew, Roma, San Luigi dei Francesi (the French church in Rome).
Calling of Saint Matthew (detail), Roma.
Jacques-Edouard Berger's admiration for Caravaggio was boundless. In his role as professor
of art history at the Lausanne Fine Arts College, he used this painter's oeuvre to initiate
students to the realm of art. And on a study trip to Rome, the Caravaggio he presented
to us "live" more than fully satisfied our newly awakened and enthusiastic scholarly
expectations. Each subsequent lecture class cast new light on this great artist's
oeuvre. On our way back from southern India, a surprise stopover in Rome gave us
a few hours at San Luigi dei Francesi. By the time we had also indulged in a
"tartuffe" (chocolate delicacy) at "Trescalini" on Piazza Navona, the magnificence
of Caravaggio had made its way to our hearts on the same level as Shiva.
This approach to Caravaggio's work changed my way of living, seeing, thinking. My own
zones of shadow and light unfolded, lending a dynamism to my life that, if not always
easy to live with, developed into a not only exciting but, above all, vital new facet.
The present Web program devoted to Caravaggio is my way of thanking Jacques-Edouard.
The program texts and images are based on five of his lectures.
The painter is a medium, revealing - in the immensity of his consciousness - the
very magma of our human quality, our strengths, weaknesses, the dark and light zones
of our personality.
To stand before a painting by Caravaggio is an experience that leaves an indelible mark.
According to Berger, Caravaggio possessed a particularly vast range of knowledge -
a wide span of feelings and possibilities, great self-knowledge and understanding
of his fellow man; he was familiar with the laws governing human behavior, with
good and evil. His extraordinary technical prowess enabled him to translate an
overall grasp of life itself into a whole language, a new message. To see a Caravaggio
is to allow our own vital space, as if by mirror effect, to start resonating, to
open up onto this artist's visions and world.
The experience provokes a revelation,
an awakening to our own zones of light and darkness, a manner of participating in
his rhythms, allowing time to flow at his tempo, travelling among vibrant blacks,
allowing ourselves to be guided by a shaft of light. More still, a manner of
breathing such light, of receiving Christ's vision through that of the artist.
Caravaggio was endowed with a vast and deep-rooted understanding of all things
human - the joys, the horrors, the cowardice, the tenderness, the gentleness of
Man. In his empathy with life, and with death, all senses flayed, in the throes
of a shriek, Caravaggio pulls us along beyond all that mires us down, to where
redemption glimmers as a possible. He actually transposes us into such a state
of receptivity that his message pierces us as forcefully as the light flashing
from St. Matthew's eyes.
Similar to the role played by the sculptor Unkei in Japanese Buddhist thought,
Caravaggio is among the significant few to ferry Western painting and the
message of Christ across the centuries. His works command our presence,
inspiring the self-awareness necessary to open our minds and hearts to
an adventure imbued with mysticism.