Replication, Differentiation and Innovation: Pictorial Identity in early modern Rome
In my dissertation I will seek to establish an alternative approach to the study of the so-called Caravaggisti, which will explore pictorial vocabularies in relation to multiple and more historically specific notions of replication. Indeed, the simplistic and generalizing association of their pictorial strategies to an unrivalled prototype, Caravaggio, needs to be challenged, along with outworn concepts like ‘influence’. The question can no longer remain how Caravaggio influenced the Caravaggisti, but rather what kind of factors came to produce new kinds of duplication and differentiations.
In particular, this generation of artists disseminated a high amount of tavern scenes, in which gypsy fortune-tellers, musicians and gamblers became engagingly animated, multifigure representations that appealed the ethnographic interest of 17th-century private collectors. Painters from France, Spain and Netherlands began their careers emulating, but also reinventing, copious versions of this commercially successful genre scenes.The popularity of such a secularized image of poverty, deprived of allegorical significance or exemplary preachings, in the context of the Counter-Reformation, is paradoxical. And yet, the new space of the picture gallery offered painters the opportunity to represent a reality usually excluded from high art, while experimenting with their vocabularies. Therefore, on one hand, my aim is to situate the proliferation of images of poverty within their socio-political framework, and especially within the new venues of display. On the other hand, the focus of this study on the conditions of genre painting under this new generation of artists will contribute to the problem of the ‘Caravaggisti’, challenging the facile and superficial notion of Caravaggism as a direct legacy to a pre-existing model and the work of diverse painters as existing merely in reflected glory.