The figures we cherish from the past are those whose frailties seem most like ours. We love Caravaggio not necessarily because he was one of the most original and influential painters in history, but as someone we feel at home with in the guise of a subversive semi-criminal, a rude boy perpetually at odds with the fat cats of Church and State to whom he turned for commissions, financial support and immunity from prosecution. Effectively we have refashioned him in the image of the late-twentieth century artist, that super-appalling confection of self-indulgence and swaggering opportunism, earnest about nothing but his right to misbehave in front of a fawning throng of collectors, critics and interviewers.
If Michelangelo Merisi, known as Caravaggio after his birthplace (a small Lombard town east of Milan), was a creature of much greater complexity than his modern avatar, this is because the seventeenth century furnished a richer, more elaborately confusing context than our own for painters, both creatively and professionally. Ambience