I met Michelangelo Merisi, known as Caravaggio, ten years ago in Rome. To tell the truth, we met on other occasions, in Syracuse and Messina, but I had no way of knowing him in depth except through art history books. That time, I had the opportunity of a lifetime and I didn't want to waste it.
I saw him, on the occasion of the great exhibition, shrouded in darkness, in the Scuderie del Quirinale, sitting aside as he watched the crowds thronging to admire his works. I gathered what little courage I had - his bad reputation precedes him - and approached that mysterious figure, I hinted at a greeting but he did not reply, he froze me with his gaze. I skipped the pleasantries, such as dear teacher etc. (this was not the case). (this was not the case). It seemed strange to me that such a great artist was not in the crowd to explain his magnificent works directly and not through critics or detractors and I asked him why. As soon as I said the word ''critics'' he began to fidget and wiggle (I heard that he had not shown up at the opening so as not to meet them), caught his breath and called them charlatans, good-for-nothings who understood nothing about art. They had said everything and everything opposite about my works, very imaginative things, absurd interpretations, now comical, now even funny, and then they claimed to know more than I did. They praised that Baglione, who is incapable of painting, who got his way with recommendations, his canvases.... I'd better leave it alone, I've already been through so many trials and that's enough. They have even accused me, unfairly, of being a degenerate. He gave me a few glances of his own and added, apparently regaining his composure, that he wanted to avoid fights with the risk of damaging his works through his anger. Perhaps, I thought, he would be better off in a corner. I took my leave with a shy see you later, but I did not seem to see any hint of an answer in his face, as before. I offered to meet him again at the end of the visit, but I did not see him again, perhaps he had gone out for his usual drink with friends in some trattoria in Trastevere.
I began the visit with Amore vincitore. From afar, in the dark of the room, I could see a lively and impertinent boy, like a putto, with wings and arrows, who looked at the spectators with malice and almost amusement, tired of being in that uncomfortable position, naked with his legs apart, with his sex in full view, but he did not care so much, it seemed that at any moment he would jump out of that precious frame, making fun of the public as he was, naked and provocative. I thought, this is Caravaggio. The miracle really happened: first the naked putto jumped out of the canvas into the crowd of well-meaning people, then it was the turn of the boy with the basket of fruit, the cheaters with their rigged cards, the thieving and lying gypsy girl, the musicians tuning their instruments, Bacchus in the act of undressing, and then the prostitutes, Annuccia with the red hair, the beautiful Phyllis and others ready to enliven the evening, everything seemed to come to life. In the middle of the room, a table decorated with flowers borrowed from the lute player, the basket of fruit poised, the baskets of the two Emmaus dinners, the fruit of the Bacchus, the jugs of wine, and amidst music and dancing, the arrival of Cardinal del Monte and his illustrious guests was awaited for the aperitif. The Cardinal arrived, obviously late, and started the party, and it was a party. But in the background, like a disturbing presence, stood the sick little boy. I felt as if I were in a theatre or in the set of Federico Fellini's Satyricon or even better in a film by Pierpaolo Pasolini, clips from films and novels, The Decameron, The Flower of the Thousand and One Nights, Teorema, Ragazzi di vita. The dreamy, oneiric atmosphere lasted only a short time, the candles slowly faded, the sounds became the sounds of fighting swords, the songs became the cries of Goliath, the cries of Holofernes and, above all, the cries of Ranuccio, as in a burial, when the tomb is sealed, and then everything becomes darkness and death.
I started, partly for fun and partly as a challenge, by painting Love Winning, but then came Bacchus, The Bari, The Good Fortune, Resting on the Flight into Egypt, etc., almost following the chronology of Caravaggio's works. Ten years later I find myself with about thirty-five works in the original format. I said to myself, why look at Caravaggio's works and not paint them? So I wanted to enter Caravaggio's work not as a mere spectator, but by trying to get to know the profound contradiction of the human soul, of this artist who is so contemporary and who had the courage to challenge the common sense of beauty and represent his world made up of human misery and who, through painting, becomes the image of God.
The redemption of the invisible. The invisible acquire the dignity of human beings, never in history would they have been spoken of except with contempt, but thanks to the genius of this man they have become eternal. Caravaggio is a scandal, a man who continually put himself on the line, pursuing his ideas with consistency, challenging his contemporaries with this painting that is so tremendously real, not stereotyped, made up of living people struggling for survival, poised between life and death. It is not the characters who leave the painting, as in a dream, but we are projected into the canvas and become part of it. Caravaggio seems to be saying this is me and this is my world. He is not a strong man, he fled, he begged for mercy, he sought protection to escape his death sentence. He wanted to live and escape his fate, deeply repentant. I see the Man of All Time trying to get up and struggle against his ghosts, struggling with his conscience suspended between earth and sky.