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113 of 121 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The New Standard
As a specialist in Baroque art--and author of books on Rubens and Bernini--I have read every serious book published about Caravaggio. Graham-Dixon's is quite simply not only the best book ever written about this towering artist, but also the best biography I have ever read about ANY artist. He sets a new standard, with his engaging, elegant style, his thorough--ten...
Published on September 25, 2010 by Charles Scribner

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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Terrific but lacking something vital
The Kindle version does not include the pictures which are rather important to enjoying this book. The book is terrific but you have to see the paintings.
Published on September 12, 2012 by Mac


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113 of 121 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The New Standard, September 25, 2010
As a specialist in Baroque art--and author of books on Rubens and Bernini--I have read every serious book published about Caravaggio. Graham-Dixon's is quite simply not only the best book ever written about this towering artist, but also the best biography I have ever read about ANY artist. He sets a new standard, with his engaging, elegant style, his thorough--ten years!--research, and his astute judgments and reasoning. It is magical, and sets a new standard for cultural biography. It also affirms the British playwright Sir Terence Rattigan's observation that 'What makes magic is genius; and what makes genius is an infinite capacity for taking pains.'
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54 of 63 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars `Caravaggio's art is made from darkness and light.', February 10, 2011
Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, born on 29 September 1571, died on 18 July 1610. In between, he created magnificent paintings and got himself into a lot of trouble with the law. Caravaggio was particularly renowned for his use of chiaroscuro, a technique which uses light and dark to achieve a three dimensional effect. Caravaggio received his early training in Milan where he specialised in still life. Around 1592 he moved to Rome, where he changed the subject matter of his painting to street life and young boys. In 1595, his extraordinary talent caught the attention of Cardinal Francesco del Monte who subsequently became his first patron.

Two of Caravaggio's three painting about Saint Matthew: The Calling, and The Martyrdom (the third painting is The Inspiration) were his first public commissions and created a sensation. Their success meant that he never lacked commissions or patrons. His paintings in this period were realistic, direct and very intense and looked as though the events they depicted had taken place in the streets of Rome.

But Caravaggio's personality was also direct and very intense and resulted in his being arrested on several occasions. In 1606, after Caravaggio stabbed and killed Ranuccio Tomassoni, he flees to Naples intending to return to Rome (where friends are lobbying on his behalf) via Malta and Sicily. Along the way, he produces several magnificent works - including the altarpiece `The Beheading of St John the Baptist `(1607-1608) created for St John's Cathedral in Valletta, Malta. This altarpiece constituted Caravaggio's payment to the Knights of Malta for his investiture as a Knight of Magistral Obedience. Alas, Caravaggio was not to retain his knighthood for very long: his escape from Malta in 1608 saw him expelled from the Order.

I found this book fascinating: the details (sometimes speculative) of Caravaggio's life, the historical context in which he was living and working and the colour plates showing many of his works make it easy to appreciate the extent of his talent. A fascinating look at a gifted but flawed genius.

Caravaggio's life, as well as his art, was made of darkness and light.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith
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22 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Compelling, thought-provoking biography of Caravaggio, November 11, 2011
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This review is from: Caravaggio: A Life Sacred and Profane (Hardcover)
This book rates among the best biographies (and best books) I have read in quite a long time. While the author is certainly an erudite academic, the text is approachable and well-written (i.e., it is not the dry litany of facts that one may expect). The decade of research and the passion of the topic at hand on the behalf of the author are evident from the beginning of the book to its end. The reader will approach Caravaggio's work (and the work of other masters) with new insight; previously accepted facts about works of art and their creators will be challenged and questioned.

The success of the book lies not in the research by the author of Caravaggio (he left almost no paper trail and no descendents) but in the research into the zeitgeist of the time and place in which the great artist lived. Here, the author shines as we learn about the laws, customs, history, social unrest, religion, and attitudes of early 17th century Italy - and how it affected the "bad boy" of Art History.

The hypothesis on Caravaggio's true possible occupation is somewhat shocking but backed by sound evidence. The challenge to his historically accepted sexual orientation (and the actual known facts culled from obscure sources) will cause the reader to question supposed truths in all future endeavors into the topic of art historical research - that makes this volume required reading for all art students as well as connoisseurs.

Each major work of Caravaggio is analyzed for technique and symbolism - as well as original impact. The reader is afforded the luxury of having each referenced work as a color plate within the book itself. Thus, the reader not only has a delightful biography but a solid reference for the work of this important master.

After you complete this read, you will never look at a Caravaggio work the same way again.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Inadequate Illustrations, But Otherwise Worthy Addition to Canon, October 9, 2011
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This review is from: Caravaggio: A Life Sacred and Profane (Hardcover)
I recommend the reader have at hand a computer screen and/or library reference book with more and better quality/size plates. Some early works lend themselves to relatively inexpensive, small-scale reproduction, but, almost all of the larger works appearing here suffer, particularly when the author attaches so much significance to details of the paintings to fill in some of the many missing gaps of evidence of Caravaggio's existence. Also, the inferior color plates cloak, in my opinion, the genius of Caravaggio's use of chiaroscuro.

The book otherwise is intriguing and enchanting and an obvious labour of love. Even after enjoying Graham-Dixon's masterful approach, Caravaggio remains one of those elusive greats about whom I wonder: how could one person, of humble stock, recklessly living on the fringes 400 years ago, leave such an immense mark? My feeling is that he was touched by fire, and saw, heard, felt and in his own way communicated in mysterious but miraculous ways no one else could.

Just as the author impresses by showing how derivative Caravaggio could occasionally be (e.g., of Michaelangelo), it is also wonderful to read of the artist's profound continuing influence. Here is a snippet from the book from Martin Scorcese, the outstanding filmmaker, on the influence he carries over to his own works from Caravaggio's story-telling approach: "[Caravaggio] was choosing a moment that was not the absolute moment of the beginning of the action, it's during the action, in a way. You sort of come upon the scene midway and you're immersed in it." Wow!
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25 of 30 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A most serious work..., August 10, 2010
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The result of an incredible detective and historic research is written in a most pleasant and "novelistic" fashion. No doubt that Mr. Graham-Dixon found the time to make a lot of sense in describing an obscure life in an even darker milieu. Congratulations !
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Terrific but lacking something vital, September 12, 2012
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The Kindle version does not include the pictures which are rather important to enjoying this book. The book is terrific but you have to see the paintings.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Simply brilliant, January 22, 2012
By 
G. Brozeit (Fairlawn, OH, USA) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Caravaggio: A Life Sacred and Profane (Hardcover)
Caravaggio: A Life Sacred and Profane by Andrew Graham-Dixon is a spectacular biography in every way imaginable. The author carefully puts together the historical record to provide as complete a picture of a complex, troubled genius as is possible.

More importantly, Graham-Dixon illuminates each of Caravaggio's paintings in such clear historical, literary, and artistic detail that anyone familiar with these paintings will now see them with a depth they have never before experienced. I already know that I will come back to it again and again in anticipation of any time I am fortunate enough to view Caravaggio's work in the future. In fact, as much as I have loved each of Caravaggio's paintings that I have seen in person, I now know that I never quite appreciated the beauty and complexity of each. The chronology used to describe the paintings--the stories behind each work--now put each into a context I had never before understood. I can't wait to rediscover Caravaggio's art again after reading this book.

Graham-Dixon does not cover up any of the gritty or tragic details of Caravaggio's life, nor does he resort to tabloid sensationalism. We meet a very human Caravaggio whose brilliance is neither obscured by his troubled life experiences nor elevated to an idealized sainthood.

Too often trite jokes are made about the value of art history. I've been guilty myself of the same thing. Graham-Dixon's work will eliminate any notion of frivolity about the study of art history. This is a serious work that will live for the ages. It should become a standard for any professional or amateur student of art history. Should others follow in the footsteps set by this example, humanity will be better served.

This is a book that will remain with me for the rest of my life. If you have ever been touched by a work of art, you should read Caravaggio: A Life Sacred and Profane. The book will stay with you long after you have finished reading it.
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14 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "Caravaggio : A Life Sacred & Profane"., August 7, 2010
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M. Mariba "the teacher" (pretoria, south africa) - See all my reviews
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This is a great biographical book on the life of the great Italian artist Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio titled "Caravaggio : A Life Sacred And Profane" by Andrew Graham-Dixon. Caravaggio's life was brief & disreputable and seems to be lit with the dramatic effects so characteristic of his paintings. Caravaggio was born outside Milan in 1571, but moved to Rome in his early age & was apprenticed to a painter at the age of 13 years with his skills soon improving/budding from painting "pretty-boy cupids and Bacchi" to great realistic masterpieces such as "Judith Beheading Holofernes". His life, however, was increasingly marked with with violence, leaving Rome in 1606 to escape a murder charge. Caravaggio died in Porto Ercole on the Tuscan coast at the age of 38 years. Rome at the time of Caravaggio was a thriving centre of religious & artistic life. But Rome was also a haven of vice & crime; and this combination did seem to have suited Caravaggio very well : by day he created great works of art & by night he stalked the streets dressed in black, on the look-out for sex, violence or both! Andrew Graham-Dixon also gives an excellent account of Caravaggio's great art works : his brilliance in paintings often using tarvern boys & barefooted women as his models, depicted with near-photographic realism!This book is a thorough & elegant protrayal of Caravaggio's brief, violent & great artistic life. There is however some criticism of Andrew Graham-Dixon's language e.g. his over-use of the adjective "sexy" that seem to cheapen an otherwise excellent book.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The greatest painter of all time, November 9, 2011
This review is from: Caravaggio: A Life Sacred and Profane (Hardcover)
I used to think that V. van Gogh was the greatest of all painters, but in recent years I have come around to the conclusion that Caravaggio was the greatest. I have not read all of the biographies and therefore cannot say whether this is the best one, but it will certainly do until the best one comes along. The reproductions are too small, they should all be full-page. Much space is devoted to analyses of the paintings, a subjective game at best. As a gay man, I was particularly interested in what AG-D had to say about Caravaggio's sexuality. He concludes that C was "omnisexual." Well, maybe, but it seems to me that a man who had a mania for using boys as models doesn't come across as anything other than pederastic. I disagree that Cardinal del Monte and Il Sodoma were "not" homosexual. At least AG-D generally presents the paintings as pederastic (as how could he not, you might ask?). Helen Langdon in 1998 managed to deny that C was homosexual in spite of the evidence. Sort of like Coleridge's owl who can't see the noonday sun. I also recommend Pierre Stephen Robert Payne ("Robert Payne") with his historical novel "Caravaggio."
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Very interesting bio, January 2, 2012
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I heard the author being interviewed on NPR and was fascinated. I went home and bought the book right away. The author does a good job of not just describing the life of the artist, but also vividly creating Caravaggio's world so we understand both the artist and his art more completely. This is one of the best biographies out there in this regard. My one complaint is that Graham-Dixon can be a bit heavy-handed with his interpretations of particular paintings, but they are overall very good.

Note to Kindle users: be sure to bookmark the paintings at the start of the book for easy reference. He refers to them fairly frequently and it helps greatly to examine the paintings as he describes them.
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Caravaggio: A Life Sacred and Profane
Caravaggio: A Life Sacred and Profane by Andrew Graham-Dixon (Hardcover - September 12, 2011)
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