Caravaggio Press Kit - Caravaggio and Derek Jarman

Last Update: 19 August 2002
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In some ways, Jarman’s CARAVAGGIO is as much about the artist Derek Jarman as the early seventeenth century painter who was so influential yet so scandalized his contemporaries with both the controversial nature of his art and his resistance to the social mores of his time. Having worked on various draft scripts for several years together with Nicholas Ward-Jackson, friend and art dealer, whose idea the project had originally been, Jarman found that he had begun to work elements of his own life into the script. At the same time, his interest and experience in filmmaking had been developing during this period and Caravaggio’s revolutionary use of light and dark (‘chiaroscuro’) made him a highly appropriate subject for a film. Caravaggio could indeed be described in retrospect as the inventor of cinematic lighting. It was the first time that dramatic ligjhting had been used in painting although now, of course, it is a central concern of every cameraman and filmmaker.

Marginalized by the society in which he lived, the story of an artist whose life has only really been ‘rehabilitated’ over the past twenty to thirty years (through the ability to talk openly about his probably homosexuality) held an irresistable fascination for Jarman. On the evidence of his paintings alone, most modern critics would agree that Caravaggio’s homosexuality, with its accompanying sense of guilt and isolation, was central to his life and art. His life was more akin to Genet and Pasolini than to a picaresque Renaissance painter such as Cellini.

Caravaggio was a poet of the low-life. While his paintings reflected an increasingly profound and original religious awareness, his private life was fraught with brawls, duels, arrests and even a libel case, culminating in 1606 in murder. This polarity was paralleled particularly in his religious paintings by the depiction of sacred figures using prostitutes, pimps and street urchins as models. Several altarpieces originally commissioned by the clergy were rejected on the grounds of impropriety. The tradition of the time was to paint abstracted and idealized figures and Caravaggio’s dynamic ‘realism’ was considered scandalous. Yet, ironically, these paintings were eagerly snapped up by the most influential Italian patrons. Once he had been accepted into their world, he was fiercely protected, even after being found guilty of murder, by the most powerful figures of our time.


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