Michael Fried

Art

Caravaggio: More than a “Moment” (Review of The Moment of Caravaggio by Michael Fried)

Everyone agrees that Caravaggio was a revolutionary painter, but the reasons we give often tend toward the superficial: he was a realist, he was provocative, he was theatrical, and so on. The fact is that there were many realist, provocative, theatrical artists before Caravaggio, and many endowed with these qualities after him were influenced by someone else. So what makes Caravaggio so special? Michael Fried claims it was the extraordinary presence of “absorption” and “distancing” in his work. Although Caravaggio was not the first to explore these themes (cf. Michelangelo’s prophets and sibyls in the Sistine Chapel), Fried argues that the Lombard genius was the first to bring them to the fore. He also believes that the (not necessarily chronological) moments of absorption/immersion and distancing/specularity tell us something about the philosophical milieu in which Caravaggio worked. Skepticism challenged the certainty that other minds exist, and Caravaggio responded with a psychological realism more powerful and sophisticated than any philosophical argument.
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