16 Sep 2021
by Cathy Block

Shropshire playwright Robin Case has dramatised the life and works of Caravaggio to coincide with the 450th anniversary of the artist's birth - the UK premiere is at Prestfelde School in Shrewsbury on September 30. Robin explains here why he chose his subject.

Pictured: Caravaggio's Medusa (Google Art Project) 

To celebrate the 450th anniversary of Caravaggio’s birth on Thursday 30th September, I have devised a 'dramatised account' of his life and works: a look at his life and above all his paintings from his perspective, in his voice – with one or two dramatic episodes. And there were plenty in his short life.

So why Caravaggio?

Think of 1500, Michelangelo in his prime – the High Renaissance; and think of Caravaggio, 1600 – and painting has moved on. And Caravaggio’s carving out the new ground.

You can see his Supper at Emmaus in the National Gallery in London, and it’s easy to find his great paintings in Rome: the St Matthew paintings and Madonnas in two churches at the top of the Piazza Navonna, and the great St Peter and St Paul in Santa Maria at the far end of Piazza del Popolo: easy to walk to. And easy to hunt down the others. Totally inspiring.

So by taking on his mantle, looking at his paintings, and telling his story at the same time, I hope to show how the estate worker’s boy from Citta di Caravaggio changed the course of painting.

Struggling to make his way in Rome, the men and women of the streets, the piazzas, the bordellos, and the osterias provide his understanding of the world and fire his imagination. And he spent quite a lot of time in prison too, usually for fighting!

The Counter Reformation demanded paintings of the Holy Family and the lives of the saints to inspire the common man. Caravaggio brings the faces of the common man from the osteria and the bordello to his religious subjects. He brings a new reality to the divine.

At the same time as Shakespeare is bringing a new language to the theatre in London, Caravaggio is bringing a new language to painting. He works from models, in interiors, darkens the background, and often uses only one source of light; he brings a new drama to painting.

And then he commits murder.

I shall tell his story and show images of most of his great paintings, which I hope will interest those who know little about Caravaggio, and also stimulate the lover of art and its history.

  • Caravaggio by Robin Case is at The Blackburn Hall, Prestfelde School, London Road, Shrewsbury on Thursday, September 30th at 7.30pm. Tickets £5 (cash only) on the door.
The calling of Saint Matthew Carvaggio