Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (1571–1610) was one of the most influential figures in the history of European art. Active in Italy between 1592 and 1610, he revolutionized painting and laid the foundation for 17th-century Baroque painting through his theatrical compositions and gritty realism observed from life.
Martha and Mary Magdalene (c. 1598), on loan from the Detroit Institute of Arts, is a masterpiece from Caravaggio’s early career in Rome. The painting depicts Mary Magdalene, considered by the Catholic Church at the time to be a prostitute, experiencing a spiritual awakening as her sister Martha counts on her fingers the reasons she should convert. Caravaggio conveys the moment of Mary’s conversion—a challenging subject—through his treatment of light, which casts a divine glow on the reformed sinner.
At the heart of Caravaggio’s groundbreaking style are his reduced color schemes, somber backgrounds, and dramatic lighting effects produced by sharp light and dark contrasts (chiaroscuro). The artist’s creation of a shallow, stage-like setting pushes the figures up close to the viewer, as though the event is unfolding in our own space and time.
Fewer than 10 paintings by Caravaggio are housed in the US, in the collections of six museums, making this a rare opportunity to see an extraordinary work by one of the most celebrated Old Master painters.
Admission is FREE.
Image: Michelangelo Merisi da Caravggio, Martha and Mary Magdalene, c. 1598, oil and tempera on canvas, Detroit Institute of Arts, Gift of the Kresge Foundation and Mrs. Edsel B. Ford, 73.268
Caravaggio: Martha and Mary Magdalene is organized by the Dallas Museum of Art with support from the Consolato Generale D’Italia Houston. The Dallas Museum of Art is supported, in part, by the generosity of DMA Members and donors, the citizens of Dallas through the City of Dallas Office of Cultural Affairs, and the Texas Commission on the Arts.