Caravaggio arrived like a messiah and disappeared like a god.
He first entered the gates of Rome as a naked and starving twentysomething seeking an art apprenticeship. Eighteen years later, he was the infamous superstar who vanished into thin air.
Like most deities, Caravaggio was known by many names. History has ultimately christened him Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, but according to biographer Peter Robb, he was documented in Roman courts by fifteen various surnames—Marisi, Merigi, Morigi, Moriggia, Narigi, Amarighi, and Amerighi among them. Robb also reports that Caravaggio’s friends were equally mixed on a moniker, casting him as Michele, Michelangelo, Michelagnolo, and Caravaggio. Whenever signing his name, the superstar genius identified himself as Marisi.
It makes sense that a maniacal genius with two dozen identities was the one to discover human consciousness. Caravaggio innovated selfies. He invented chiaroscuro. He revolutionized painting from live models, depicting peasants, laborers, and prostitutes as saints and Virgins. Caravaggio was psychological three-hundred years before Wundt, James, or Freud. He was Marxist two-hundred years before Karl. His deep explorations into human consciousness were being painted at a time when the first microscopes, telescopes, and thermometers were being fabricated.
Caravaggio paintings were proto-Hollywood motion pictures. He had the eminence of a celebrity movie director. There is speculation that his pictures were innovatively devised using a camera obscura. If true, this fortifies the analogy of Caravaggio as an early modern director, towering over Scorsese and Welles, and vastly overshadowing the aesthetical and technical importance of Vittorio Calcina screening his Pope Leo XII documentary on a Lumière Brothers projector in 1895.
Caravaggio loved men and women. Caravaggio could choke-out your favorite UFC fighter. He could outduel your favorite Jedi. Caravaggio was postmodern while being one of the founding fathers of modernity. To this day, he is more modern than David Bowie, Mick Jagger, or Lou Reed.
The only documentation of his voice comes from police reports and testimonies from various court trials of slander, assault, and brutal batteries. In writing Caravaggio a modernized voice, I wanted him to speak in our idioms and slang. I wanted to transform early modern Rome into the gritty streets of Luc Sante’s early 1980’s New York. I wanted an early modern Rome with graffiti, pizza, and donuts. I wanted Caravaggio to live inside a Velvet Underground album with big-haired, sexually fluid dudes dressed in frilly velvets, but instead of switchblades, they’re carving each other up with rapiers.
I hope and pray that Caravaggio doesn’t hate it.