There is something about Caravaggio that fascinates people. Even those who would normally prefer to cross a street of hot coals than spend time looking at paintings seem happy to make an exception for this rebel of Counter-Renaissance Art.
To celebrate Rome’s Caravaggio exhibition that has just opened at the Villa Borghese (and runs through January 24, 2010), it seemed timely to look at this bad boy of the paintbrush and take a tour around Rome to see some of his masterpieces for free!
So just who was Caravaggio?
Whilst most artists of the Middle Ages were more soft ruffles than tough scuffles, Caravaggio was not afraid of a fight, a drink, and the odd murder to boot. Commission happy, the taste of luxury did not bring out his lighter side. As well as pushing the Catholic church to the edge with his dark religious paintings, he eventually lost his temper once too often. After killing a young man who beat him in a tennis match in the Campo Dei Fiori, he fled Rome with a price on his head. He finally died in exile, never learning that he had been given a Papal Pardon.
Where can I see Caravaggio for free?
Sant’ Agostino Church
Via Sant’ Agostino
The Madonna di Loreto (painted in 1605, pictured above) is hung in the first chapel on the left. The church is close to Piazza Navona, and also includes a Raphael fresco. The church is currently under restoration, but don’t be fooled. Under the scaffolding, it is still open so you can see the paintings. For those who are pregnant (or wish to be), touch the statue of the “Madonna del Parto” near the door as you leave for luck.
San Luigi dei Francesi
In the church of San Luigi dei Francesi you get three Caravaggio paintings for free with the Matthew trilogy, including “The Calling of Saint Matthew”, “St. Matthew and the Angels”, and “The Matrydom of Saint Matthew”. This church is close to the centre, a short walk from the Pantheon and Piazza Navona, and next to the French institute with its wonderful bookshop.
Santa Maria Del Popolo
Piazza Del Popolo
This church is about a 20-minute walk from the historic centre, or you can take the Metro Linea A to Flaminio. Here you can find two paintings, the “Conversion of St. Paul” and “The Crucifixion of St. Peter”, so well worth the journey.
Please note that many churches are closed between 1 PM – 4 PM, but usually stay open in the evening until around 7 PM.
And if I want to pay?
Well if you are at the Santa Maria del Popolo, it is just a short walk up the hill to the Galleria Borghese, and its wonderful park. Here you can see three Caravaggio works, “Sick Bacchus”, “Boy with Bag of Fruit” and “Madonna dei Palafrenieri”. Entrance will cost you €8.50 but you also get to see the amazing Bernini sculpture of “Daphne and Apollo” amongst many other treasures.
At the moment, you can also access the Caravaggio and Bacon exhibition, on through January 24. Note that for the Galleria Borghese, you need to book in advance as only a limited number are allowed in at any one time (more details here).
Lastly, you can see the “Gypsy Fortune Teller” at the Capitoline Museums, entrance fee €6.50. Don’t forget that both of these museums are included in the Roma Pass, which is a 3-day pass that gives you free access to two museums, free travel on Rome’s public transport, and discounts to other museums and attractions. The pass costs €34. (read more about the Roma Pass).