Vermeer's contemporaries: Rome

In the years around 1665, the Caravaggio school endured, but the meditation and silence it possessed in Caravaggio's time had become angry and rhetorical with accents presaging the Baroque. In 1665, Caravaggio (1573 - 1610) had been dead for 55 years, but the Caravaggio school flourished with, in particular, Borgianni, Fetti, Rosa, Desiderio and Bernini.

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Borgianni was one of the painters who resumed and continued Caravaggio's research into the authenticity of the interpretations of the Scriptures through shadow and light. Using a contrasted chiaro-scuro, a dramatic setting and strong relief, the 1665 Caravaggio school was exacerbated, extremely theatrical and sometimes excessive.

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Consider the modesty of Caravaggio's MARY MAGDALENE, completely isolated in a large grey bubble. Here, on the contrary, an eloquent work: a skull, books on the floor, a dog looking elsewhere...

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Rosa was one of the great Caravaggio school painters of this generation. His violent, extreme and sarcastic temperament gave his work a romantic and apocalyptic character, much like Caspar David Friedrich. The people occupy only a congruent space of the painting, in a scenery of mountain storms, rocks and vegetation.

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A painter specializing in chiaro-scuro with a special predilection for the Apocalypse.

One name rises above all other: Giovanni Lorenzo Bernini. Under the aegis of Pope Innocent X, great art was no longer painting, but construction.

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The famous pope whose portrait always causes shivers, so keen is his gaze, was one of the great propagators of the baroque. A city planner with cosmic vision, he needed an architect with genius. The pope understood that the greatest genius of the baroque era hid behind Bernini's romantic, extreme and textural sculptures. He drew him into his service and made him his architect and city planner.

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The sharp edges, the hatching of space and textures, the romantic, extreme and textural qualities remind one of Borgianni and Salvator Rosa.

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Shadow and light are the bearers of spirituality. The more one raises one's eyes, the more one is made aware that Bernini had created an effect of tension and aspiration in the cupola, which brings us to the top, in the shadows, to this oculus, this lantern, deep in which appears the fully lit Holy Ghost. At high noon, the entire cupola comes alive with golden rays, revealing a multitude of putti proclaiming God's greatness.

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In the church's shadows, the marble is revealed in all its white violence by means of a well of light arranged above it. The light flows in golden bronze rays and brings the marble's impalpable quality to life, which then becomes immaterial.

Bernini and Caravaggio are the opposite poles of baroque art. Bernini represents the day, light and the sun; Caravaggio represents the night, darkness and mystery. Bernini is the affirmation of splendor, Caravaggio, on the contrary, represents the upholding of absolute secrecy. These two people, who never met, are complete complements. Bernini was a man of the South, Caravaggio came from Lombardy. Bernini was very quickly discovered, adulated and respected. Caravaggio was decried, abominated and scorned until his death. The baroque was a century of chiaro-scuro, in which Bernini was the light and Caravaggio the obscurity.

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The 17th century was one of celebration. The painters, sculptors and architects had to defend the faith's cause, which was celebrated with indescribable fervor. All means, even the most theatrical, were used to demonstrate the Church's sacredness. It is astonishing to realize that Vermeer's work, so silent, is absolutely contemporaneous with Rome's greatest baroque.