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M : The Man Who Became Caravaggio Paperback – February 10, 2001

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Recognized now as a peer of 17th-century masters Rembrandt and Vermeer, Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (1571-1610) painted notoriously provocative religious and classical tableaux, yet left few traces ("no letters, no table talk, no notebook or treatise") of his life beyond his art. Australian -born Robb, whose ex-pat tour-de-force Midnight in Sicily: On Art, Food, History, Travel, & La Cosa Nostra took readers through that fascinating island, has created an idiosyncratic but dazzling biography of Caravaggio by exploiting almost every extant fragment, including a handful of sightings by friends and enemies, and the scanty Italian police files. More audaciously, Robb spreads through the life many pages on every known canvas, leaving appropriately theatrical description in his wake. Robb's Caravaggio--or "M," as he insists on calling the multimonikered and aliased painter--was a violent man of "hairtrigger touchiness," who fueled the passionate intensity of his painting with his professional and emotional frustrations, managing to register raw life in a religious culture that demanded, according to Robb, vapid holiness. Bisexual, he painted and loved pubescent boys, and patronized the female prostitutes he used as models. To great effect, Robb inserts reflections by the painter's contemporaries within his own sentences, offsetting them with italics rather than quotation marks: "M's repeated and humiliating requests for small advances from Masetti confirmed the need. That wasn't his style and he reddens whenever he sees me." He studs his own descriptions with odd words, obscenities and anachronistic, out-of-place contemporary references ("... like Ronald Reagan playing the cowboy"). Yet it all works--Robb's flawed, melodramatic, swollen biography is crammed with more about the dark, driven Caravaggio than any previous life. Just as Caravaggio took art to the edge, Robb takes biography there. 16 pages of illus., 8 in color, not seen by PW.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

Of books about the art and life of the great Caravaggio, there are apparently no end. Unfortunately this comprehensive consideration of the master's life and oeuvre neither particularly expands our understanding nor further illuminates our appreciation. Attentive as he is to the immediate world around the artist, Robb's hostility to Catholicism and his insensibility to the religious content and emotion of Caravaggio's mature paintings vitiates not only the sometimes perceptive value of his analyses but also the quality of his contextual reconstruction. His evocation of qualities in the paintings are not always apparent and are at times dubiously inferred from problematic biographical data. Similarly troubling are his sexualization of the artist's content and the sometimes feverish conspiratorial nets that are educed from a limited body of documentation. "Caravaggesque" provocations, vulgarity, neologisms, colloquial jargon, Australian slang, and smart-alecky allusions mar the verve of Robb's prose. Collections desiring a contextual approach will be better served by Helen Langdon's Caravaggio: A Life (LJ 6/1/99), while those concerned with accessible formal elucidation and comprehensive illustration will wish to acquire Catherine Puglisi's Caravaggio, LJ 4/1/99.
---Robert Cahn, Fashion Inst. of Technology, New York
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 592 pages
  • Publisher: Picador; 1st edition (February 10, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312274742
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312274740
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1 x 8.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (51 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #370,659 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

120 of 127 people found the following review helpful By Aussie Reader on January 14, 2000
Format: Hardcover
I picked up this book after reading Desmond Seward's 'Caravaggio: A Passionate Life'. As I stated in my review of that book I had no prior knowledge of this artist and it was the beautiful colour plates that initially attracted me to the book. Peter Robb's account of the life of Caravaggio is a much larger book, over 560 pages with numerous B&W and exquisite colour plates. The story covers all aspects of Michelangelo Merisi's (M) life and the author attempts to answer the questions about this artist's dark life. Peter Robb provided an insight into the politics, art and people of the period which I found very interesting and put much of M's life in perspective. I found that the story flowed along faultlessly and it was a joy to read and to learn about the paintings produced by M during his life. I did find one aspect of the book a little annoying. The author made mention or reference to a number of Caravaggio's paintings but did not provide any plates to illustrate these pictures. In the end I bought a small D&K art book which I used to cross-reference all of the artist pictures when mentioned in the narrative. Other than that I have no complaints of this beautifully presented book and I am sure that anybody who wants to learn more about this extraordinary man will certainly enjoy this book.
"There was art before him and art after him, and they were not the same." - Robert Hughes
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157 of 179 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on March 14, 2000
Format: Hardcover
It is hard to understand the recent enthusiasm for Peter Robb's "M", a book whose approach to the painter [M]ichelangelo da Caravaggio, as one reviewer has noted, is "unashamedly populist" and "disreputable." I am frankly puzzled that Amazon readers and professional reviewers seem unfazed by the liberties Robb has taken with historical material in this 570-page tabloid with a Fritz Lang title. Confusing fact and fiction in historical biography is simply not commendable--even if it is done with "passion and panache." Inventing central facts in a subject's life, as Robb does here, goes way beyond even the dubious license of Edmund Morris in his biography of Ronald Reagan. There is scant historical evidence to support the description of a love relationship between Caravaggio and Francesco (Cecco) Boneri, to which Robb dedicates dozens of fictional pages. Nor is there anything in the record to justify Robb's Hollywood ending that Caravaggio was murdered by the Knights of Malta. Robb's vulgarization of Caravaggio's works and the people he associated with is mere sensationalism and detracts from the few interesting observations the author provides about the artist's style and social context. Given that several excellent books on Caravaggio have appeared in the last few years, especially those by Catherine Puglisi and Helen Langdon, the New York Times and other reviewers have done a real disservice to the public by giving such prominence to one of the worst.
David M. Stone, Associate Professor, Italian Baroque Art, University of Delaware
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47 of 51 people found the following review helpful By taking a rest HALL OF FAME on March 28, 2000
Format: Hardcover
I would have given this book 5 stars without a moment's hesitation but for one issue. The Author goes into very detailed analysis on 83 paintings. The color plates are limited to 8, and then there are 20 black and white faces equally divided between, Caravaggio, and 4 of his models, Mario, Cecco, Fillide, and Lena. If you are very well schooled in this man's work this may not be an issue. However I, like one other reviewer went out and bought a book so that I could see what the Author was talking about. This is a great read, but as a major work, or definitive work, it is incomplete.
I also have read Helen Langdon's book, "Caravaggio A Life", which was wonderful, and Desmond Seward's, Carravaggio A Passionate Life", which is third amongst these three.
For so famous an individual, it is amazing what an enigma he has remained to history. Without his passion that kept him in touch, and in trouble with the police and a variety of individuals, including, Cardinals, Popes, The Knights Of Malta, to name a few, his already vague personal history would be a stretch to document.
There has been some criticism of the Author's extensive expansion upon what some consider very limited evidence. I really feel this is a matter of degree. His entire life history is still being revised, as are the paintings that are attributed to him. According to this Author he signed one painting in his career.
In fairness to the Author he goes on at length at the beginning that this is "his hypothesis", he never presents his opinions as being beyond reproach. He also rightfully acknowledges that what we know of this man continues to expand and to change. The Author's ending of Caravaggio's life is also called, "pure hypothesis".
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59 of 66 people found the following review helpful By Mrs Janice Knight on January 16, 2000
Format: Hardcover
At the end of the 16th and beginning of the 17th century, life in Rome was a pretty chancy business, especially if you were an artist without powerful support. Or if you were an artist who was pushing the boundaries and showing up your contemporaries. Carravagio, or Michelangelo Merisi was such an artist. Peter Robb has used every bit of the available evidence and M's own work to create a biography that reads like a thriller, written in a quick contemporary style, which makes the reader realise how difficult it must have been to please all the powers in the Rome of the day. In your face describes both Peter Robb's style and M's life. The reader is asked to share the writer's excitement and enthusiasm in a book which is a dialogue between writer and reader. The paintings are wonderful, the story is exciting. A great read.
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