Dr. David Cowan
One of the great murder mysteries in the history of art is that of the fate of Caravaggio the Italian artist, who killed a rival in a botched attempt to castrate him and was later killed himself. For some 400 years historians asserted that Caravaggio murdered Ranuccio Tomassoni in 1606 in a row over a tennis match.
However, more recently, a leading art historian Andrew Graham-Dixon, claimed that the killing followed a dispute between the two over Fillide Melandroni, a female prostitute, whose services both men procured. Using documents held in the Vatican and Rome State archives, the evidence suggests that Tomassoni was a pimp, who died in the act of Caravaggio attempting to cut off his testicles.
Carravaggio’s sexuality has been the subject of much speculation since the 1960s, as new forms of criticism reexamined the male nudes he painted and classified them as homo-erotic. This was extrapolated to the theory he was an homosexual. There is no clear factual evidence he was, though what evidence there is can be interpreted as such. There is though clear evidence he was licentious in sex and made liberal use of prostitutes.
So, along comes Caravaggio: Between the Darkness to the Edinburgh Fringe, along with an art exhibition Beyond Caravaggio at the Scottish National Gallery. The play hits on the twin themes of his sexuality and the artistic theme of the revolutionary use of light and darkness in his work.
The darkness of the action and the play of light on the scene, like Caravaggio’s works, are often juxtaposed, but the lighting for this show created more darkness than light. For those like myself banished to the back of the auditorium it was difficult to see much at times, particularly the action at ground level. Such are the challenges of Fringe venues and the need to jump in and out of spaces.
Mercifully perhaps we are spared the drama of castration, though I can’t be sure because I couldn’t see the initial action happening at the feet of the audience. The play takes us into the aftermath of that act and Caravaggio’s journey towards his own death, which the play follows based on the theory that he met his death at the hands of the Knights of Malta.
Thomas Lodge, as the melancholic Annibale Carracci who shelters Caravaggio for a while, played his part with subtlety and is a contrast to Alex Marchi (who does bear a striking resemblance to the artist) as Caravaggio, played in turns of the broodiness and fits of anger one would expect.
Richard Unwin offered us a well-studied camp portrayal in Cardinal Del Monte, who has the job of overseeing the acquisition of Caravaggio’s painting. My reservation being that frankly camp priests in religious portrayals are a little worn out surely?
The imaginative use of empty picture frames to represent the various works of art was a nice touch. If you go to the exhibition Beyond Caravaggio, featuring his works and those who imitated and followed him, it makes a pleasant enough combo.