Home Memorial Address
Memorial Address PDF Print E-mail
Article Index
Memorial Address
Page #
Page #
Page #
Page #

'There is a danger,’ he wrote thirty years ago, 'that Caravaggio’s real quality as an artist may get lost between, on the one hand, the romance attaching to his name and on the other, the minute speculations that have been heaped by scholars, often with little or no evidence, round the attribution and exact dating of his works.’

He goes on to what is, I think, the nearest he came to a formal statement of his critical stance: 'Caravaggio’s is a compelling personality and his personality is relevant to his art. To the scholar his work does present baffling problems. But the key questions are: what did Caravaggio succeed in achieving as a painter? And why is he one of the handful of great Italian painters of the seventeenth century?’

Few art-historians have the courage to ask such questions, and none has been better able to answer them. Whichever the artist under discussion, Michael would survey the documentary evidence, conjure rapidly the political and intellectual worlds which shaped the artist’s life and the patrons who might have affected his choices. He would set out, in short, the limits of the knowable, and then he would turn to the central question - the act of poetic creation itself, an act which could be studied, tracked, described, but never fully understood. The effect of the work on us could be evoked. Its importance for us could be insisted on, but, for Michael, at its heart there remained - in the words of Henry Vaughan - 'a deep but dazzling darkness’. And this is, I think, why his writings will endure.