Whilst at Edinburgh Fringe yesterday, I saw the aptly named “Caravaggio: Between the Darkness” by Theatre Dept. at theSpace on the Mile (V39) . The performance was utterly engaging with excellent acting and production. The space was small and the props few, though this probably added to the sense of concentrated drama, reflecting that achieved by Caravaggio through his use of tenebrism (a form of illumination which spotlights certain elements whilst keeping others in deep shadow). All the cast gave very impressive performances, Caravaggio being depicted with passion as a brawling bisexual frequenter of brothels and taverns. Tom Butler’s writing was tight and often darkly humorous, and it was all held together with a palpable tension, making for a very popular show. This interpretation of his last tempestuous years explores authority and transgression, hypocrisy, violence, lust, hubris – the dark backstory to his violently dramatic religious paintings. See https://www.theatredep.com/ for details.
Inspired, I decided to forgo a show, as I couldn’t miss the opportunity to see the “Beyond Caravaggio” exhibition at the Scottish National Gallery, a collaboration between the National Gallery, London, the National Gallery of Ireland and the National Galleries of Scotland. (This exhibition was at the National Gallery in London Oct 2016 -Jan 2017.) There were only four of his paintings on display at Edinburgh (but amongst them Supper at Emmaus, 1601 and Boy Bitten by a Lizard c.1594-5) but hey, the gallery was reasonably quiet so no crowds to compete with! It was very satisfying to have such an unobstructed view of these much reproduced paintings, I could appreciate how Caravaggio made the simple seem quite grandiose through his theatrical use of light.
The other works on display showcase the talents of some of his followers, I think the simplicity and realism of Jusepe de Ribera’s aged Saint Onufrius stood out for me. I found the violence and gore of some of the religious works repellent, and I won’t pretend this is my favourite genre, preferring to view such works as “educational”! The exhibition is well worth seeing, and is on until September 24th- you can read more and see the highlights here: https://www.nationalgalleries.org/exhibition/beyond-caravaggio (scroll down the page). Caravaggio’s life did seem a mass of paradoxes: beauty and brutality, discipline and licentiousness, obedience and rebellion. In other words, extreme light and shade.