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Caravaggio: Painter of Miracles (Eminent Lives) Hardcover – Deckle Edge, October 4, 2005


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Product Details

  • Series: Eminent Lives
  • Hardcover: 160 pages
  • Publisher: Eminent Lives; 1st edition (October 4, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060575603
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060575601
  • Product Dimensions: 5 x 0.7 x 7.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,242,840 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The first thing to know about this life of the Italian baroque painter Caravaggio is that it is not a proper biography but rather an informal appreciation by novelist and occasional art critic Prose (Blue Angel). As with the other volumes in the Eminent Lives series, groundbreaking research is not expected. Fair enough. Yet despite her obvious love for the artist, Prose has little of substance to say about him. Once she dispatches with the basic points of the artist's life—that Caravaggio defied the fashion for mannered, pious painting with a gritty but theatrical realism that mirrored the artist's turbulent life—she resorts to the puffed-up style of a student trying to reach a term paper's required length. She stuffs her pages with redundant adjectives ("wan, exhausted, used up," "constant and unchanged") and finds no point too trite to repeat three times: "You can watch an artist realizing that what he is doing is succeeding, that the paint is doing precisely what he wants it to do, that his intention and purpose are finding their way onto the canvas." Even those with only a casual interest in the artist would be better served by Helen Langdon's 1998 biography Caravaggio: A Life, which is as accessible as it is scholarly and is now out in paperback. (Oct.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

One of Prose's many gifts is her ability to quickly and vividly establish a context for the personalities she so acutely portrays, whether it's a fictional character or, in her discerning nonfiction, a real-life figure in the art world. Here she focuses on the revolutionary Italian artist Caravaggio. A contemporary of Shakespeare, Caravaggio was "belligerent, contemptuous, and competitive," a revered artist and a notorious street fighter wanted for murder who died at 39 under tragic circumstances. Much has been written about Caravaggio and his dramatic paintings, especially his daringly earthy depictions of biblical scenes, but somehow Prose's concentrated interpretation has a stronger impact. Not only does she cover all the biographical essentials but she also more clearly and descriptively explicates the pioneering painter's unique perception of the miraculous in everyday life. Prose also reveals, with both subtlety and flourish, how Caravaggio's frank interpretations of violence and pain, fear and grief, dignity and transcendence are matched with a brilliant subversion of our sense of reality. Donna Seaman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

Customer Reviews

I read it because I admire all of Francine Prose's writing.
J. Rosenberg
And Prose does an excellent job defining Caravaggio the artist, and the impact he had on his contemporaries.
P. Houston
Excellent sketch of Caravaggio's life, and overview of his opus.
Hugh M. Bailey

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

40 of 46 people found the following review helpful By Michael L. Landau on October 4, 2005
Format: Hardcover
This is a modest little biographical sketch of the turbulent life of Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio. The details of his life are too sketchy to justify a really thorough biography. Granted. My problem with Prose's book is that too little attention is given to the paintings. There are a few paintings reproduced in small color plates, but even these are not analyzed properly. Big fans of Caravaggio will be disappointed to find that 'Supper at Emmaus' for example is missing entirely. Also missing is an annotated index of the artist's works. Equally reprehensible is the mention in the text of paintings that are not represented in the plates at all. An artist's legacy is not his life, but his work, and it is his work that should have received more attention in this volume.
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17 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Grady Harp HALL OF FAMETOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on January 28, 2006
Format: Hardcover
The series of books Eminent Lives being produced by General Editor James Atlas for Atlas Books, a division of Harper Collins is a true project that fills a vital need in the paucity of the arts education in this country at present. Coupling excellent writers with biographies of great people is long overdue and after reading Francine Prose's very fine but succinct evaluation of the life of painter Caravaggio the reader will want to collect all of the volumes of this educational and enlightening series.

Though there are many huge tomes readily available on the art and the wild life of Michelangelo Merisi (da Caravaggio) that offer a much more complete view of the great artist's artist output and more detailed accounts of his sexual life and his criminal life involving the church and the state throughout Italy during his relatively brief life (1571 - 1610). Francine Prose approaches her subject more as a novelist than as reportage. She covers the important aspects of Caravaggio's influences, his beginnings, his particular gifts of painting that incorporated models form the street to depict religious icons, his miraculous understanding and reproduction of light and shadow, and his propensity to follow his hedonistic needs in lieu of being faithful to his career.

This is a physically small volume (perfect for tucking into the jacket pocket or purse for reading away from home) and therein lays its main drawback: the few reproductions of paintings that serve to underline Prose's commentary are too small to satisfy the art lover. But for those images there are many monographs surveys available that may serve as adjuncts to this concise Eminent Life. Recommended. Grady Harp, January 06
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Roger M. Olien on January 13, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Francine Prose's charming brief introduction to the life and art of Caravaggio simply doesn't belong in the Eminent Lives series--not because he was unworthy. Rather, the spartan production standards of the series precluded including enough of his art to give a reader even a clue as to what the author was describing. For example, her descriptions and analyses of "The Fortune Teller" and "The Card Sharps" were really quite good, but without the paints near at hand, most readers will find it difficult to appreciate them. Obviously, anyone familiar with his art would hardly buy an introduction to it; lacking appropriate illustration, the volume is unlikely to add to the ranks of Caravaggio's admirers.
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful By David A. Wend on January 27, 2006
Format: Hardcover
I have had a long interest in Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio and over the years have had the pleasure of seeing the retrospective held at the Metropolitan Museum in New York in the late 1980's and seeing his paintings in Rome and Naples. I heard of Francine Prose's book in a review and was drawn to read it. I do not have any other books solely devoted to Caravaggio but have several on his time period.

First, the book is a small format which may be surprising but for me was not a huge drawback. The only problem with the size of the book is that the illustrations are smaller than some people may like. I found Ms. Prose's text to be the focus of this book, not the illustrations. I liked her writing and overall presentation. I did not find her adjectives redundant and the complaining quotations by other reviews I think are out of context. For me, Ms. Prose presents the life and times of Caravaggio with as full a presentation that I wanted, delving into what it was like to be a painter in his times and giving us as much detail as there is about her subject. I thought she created excellent work pictures of Caravaggio's paintings. The only problem is that many are not reproduced in her book so I had to go to other sources. However, I think that if one is interested in Caravaggio you will want to read Ms. Prose's book and find the missing paintings elsewhere. This book may not be an exhaustive study of Caravaggio but it is an excellent introduction to the painter with many thought provoking observations.
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7 of 10 people found the following review helpful By David Robinson on December 7, 2006
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Francine Prose writes well and with a light ironic touch but this slim volume adds little to what we already know about Caravaggio. At a little over 100 pages and with only a handful of color illustrations the book amounts to little more than an extended essay of Ms. Prose's reactions to Caravaggio's major works. There are very many better books showing the paintings and Prose doesn't go into the camera obscura technique that Caravaggio undoubtedly used, giving his paintings an almost photo-realistic representation of his subjects.

That Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio was a brawler with a passion for picking fights worthy of "Fight Club" who combined erratic behavior with some sublime paintings is hardly an insight. A much better treatment of the life and psychology of the artist appears in Peter Robb's 1998 "M: The Man who Became Caravaggio" which curiously is unreferenced by Prose.

Although Prose notes that Caravaggio broke away from the stylized poses and unearthly lighting of the mannerists, I don't think she clearly explains his genius.
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More About the Author

Francine Prose is the author of sixteen books of fiction. Her novel A Changed Man won the Dayton Literary Peace Prize, and Blue Angel was a finalist for the National Book Award. Her most recent works of nonfiction include the highly acclaimed Anne Frank: The Book, The Life, The Afterlife, and the New York Times bestseller Reading Like a Writer. A former president of PEN American Center, and a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Francine Prose lives in New York City.


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