How can a man live such an unrefined, volatile lifestyle as Caravaggio did and paint religious works that are so refined in their spiritual power? Is there more divine sensitivity in the debauched life of this man that we give him credit for? Or do we tend to idealize the “cleanliness” of the people on Jesus’ day.
The March 2007 issue of Smithsonian features these rugged and turbulent aspects of Caravaggio’s life along with a fantasy journey of his travels (running). I knew he traveled around Italy quite a bit, but never knew why. In May 1606, he killed a man in a knife fight and fled to avoid arrest for murder! The article reveals that
“much of what is known about Caravaggio’s life comes to us through police records and legal depositions. During his time in Rome he insulted his fellow painters, quarreled, fought, broke the law, defied the police and was subsequently imprisoned. He was sued for libel, arrested for carrying a weapon without a license, prosecuted for tossing a plate of artichokes in a waiter’s face. He was accused of throwing stones at the police, attacking the house of two women, harassing a former landlady and wounding a prison guard. ”
I have no idea how Caravaggio personally thought about God as Savior, but I get a strong sense that he understood the ruggedness and the suffering of Christ. When he painted The Crucifixion of St. Peter (above), how could he avoid thinking that this was the due penalty for his own sins? Or perhaps this is the unjust penalty for following Jesus? When he painted The Madonna of Loreto, did he wonder what kneeling before the Mother of Jesus might have been like? When he painted The Conversion of St. Paul, how could he have avoided pondering the need for his own salvation? Did he wonder if God would descend upon him like he did Paul on the road to Damascus?
Apart from all these things I wonder, I am confident that God loves the vilest of offenders and that no one’s sins elude the cover of Christ’s shed blood on the Cross. Those who think that they are too evil to receive God’s gift of salvation minimize the scope of the Cross. And those of us who think we’re not so bad to begin with don’t understand what holiness is. I want to sing, “Hallelujah, what a Savior!” Perhaps, out of my own unrefined life, I can leave behind impactful impressions of our Lord.