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Travel Tip: Art and Archaeology in United States
Caravaggio Connoisseurship: Saint Francis in Meditation and the Capitoline Fortune Teller

Caravaggio: <EM>The Fortune Teller</EM>
Caravaggio: The Fortune Teller
Caravaggio Connoisseurship: Saint Francis in Meditation and the Capitoline Fortune Teller
WILLIAMSBURG, VIRGINIA  •  Muscarelle Museum of Art at the College of William & Mary  •  Ongoing

On loan from two different sources in Rome are two versions of Caravaggio’s Saint Francis in Meditation that have left the experts mystified. Despite years of consideration, the identification of the original is still unresolved. Which one of these two beautiful paintings is the original? Could they both be by the great Michelangelo Merisi, called Caravaggio?

In Caravaggio Connoisseurship: Saint Francis in Meditation and the Capitoline Fortune Teller, the Capuchin and Carpineto paintings are exhibited side-by-side, affording an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for visitors to compare them brushstroke by brushstroke. A special feature of the exhibition is the presence of one of Caravaggio’s best-known compositions, The Fortune Teller on loan from the Pinacoteca Capitolina in Rome. The Fortune Teller is universally recognized as a landmark work in artist’s realism, not to mention a prime example of his technique shortly after his arrival in Rome in the early 1590s.

At the end of the 1500s, some ten years before Shakespeare wrote Hamlet, Caravaggio painted Saint Francis in solitary dialogue with a skull. As with many of Caravaggio’s paintings, his conception of the theme was so arresting that a profusion of copies were made, even during his lifetime. These competing versions create the problems faced by scholars in attributing, dating and interpreting his works.

Caravaggio’s name and fame had been largely forgotten by 1908, when the Saint Francis in Meditation in the Capuchin convent of Santa Maria della Concezione on the Via Veneto in Rome was first attributed by Giulio Cantalamessa, the Director of the Gallery Borghese in Rome. The attribution and the suggested date of 1603 were soon accepted by most experts. In 1968, another version came to light in a Franciscan church in Carpineto Romano, a small town outside of Rome. Despite its dusty and damaged condition, the scholar Maria Vittoria Brugnoli identified it as an autograph work. Today, expert opinion is split evenly between the two pictures. Some authorities propose a third possibility, namely, that Caravaggio painted them both, but several years apart. The exhibition  includes a didactic section in which explanatory texts and photographic enlargements present the cases for the differing points of view, equipping viewers to view the works with the eyes of a connoisseur. An illustrated booklet with texts by John T. Spike and Sergio Guarino, Curator of the Capitoline Museum, are available.

Muscarelle Museum of Art Website

Contact: Muscarelle Museum of Art
603 Jamestown Road
College of William & Mary
Williamsburg, Va. 23187
Tel: (1) 757 221 27 00

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