The Unseen Caravaggio

Letter From New York

I went to the Caravaggio exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on a rainy Tuesday morning, hoping to avoid the crowds that gather at big name art events these days. The streets were fairly empty, and I could feel the temperature drop along the line of fountains as I passed—a cozy moment before moving from nature into art. I remembered the dingy comfort of the museum when it was like a library or an old-fashioned bookstore—a perfect place for browsing and meditation—and I recalled my trip to London last January, where I spent a quiet day at the Royal Academy's exhibit of Venetian art, one of the most beautifully presented shows that I have ever seen.

I canceled out these reveries when I saw the ticket line for "Caravaggio and His Contemporaries." I was a veteran of several crowd-control experiences, including the last Van Gogh exhibit at the Met, and I could feel that slight edge of tension rise in me again to compete for space in order to see the present work. Unfortunately, I did not see the Caravaggios as much as I saw the entire event itself, which was as far from Caravaggio as I ever want to see again.

I say this because art was the last thing that I experienced at the show. I do not exaggerate when I say that the noise in the first room of Caravaggio's contemporaries was at a low-level din by 11:30. There were two men next to me talking about their wrist ailments, several...

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