After having seen the Irving Penn Centennial several weeks ago at the Met Museum, I climbed the stairs to the second floor for a glimpse of Carvaggio's Last Two Paintings. They were well worth a trip to the museum all by themselves.
No matter how tumultuous and scnadalous Carvaggio's life my have been, or perhaps because of it, he was a visionary in his approach to painting, and the two large works - The Martyrdom of St. Ursula and The Denial of St. Peter - now on view are among his greatest achievements. Looking at them, it's hard to believe they were created in the early seventeenth century, an era still dominated by the stiff and lifeless forms of the Mannerist school. Although these paintings are credited with inspiring the greatest artists of the Baroque, most notably Rembrandt, they actually look far more modern than even those. There is a theatricality in the lighting that is so advanced it reminds one more of twentieth century cinema than of centuries-old European art. The characters who emerge only partially from the shadows come alive to the viewer as individuals and so transcend the Biblical figures they are meant to represent. Even today the naturalism displayed in these paintings is almost shocking when compared to the academic style displayed in most other works of the period. One can only wonder what Carvaggio's contemporaries made of them. Certainly they were like nothing that had ever been seen before in European painting. If one wishes to trace the development of modernism in Western art, this is where one must begin.
The exhibit continues through July 9, 2017.