Secret Caravaggio at Hampton Court Palace

The works of the most important painting masters in history of the art are often expeted to be kept at popular Museums around the world such as the Louvre, the Vatican Museums, the Uffizi, the Hermitage, the Prado, the Met…Although it might pretty often be true, there is quite a wide number of masterpieces that are kept at Museums you don’t expect. Today we will discover a recently restored painting by Caravaggio, kept at the Royal Palace of Hamton Court, just outside London. Go and visit it.

Post by Luca Simoncello (aka Loca Boerio) – art expert and good friend

In the past decades Caravaggio became an undisputed icon of the Italian painting mastery of the 1600s, over-shading his fellow contemporary colleagues, as if they were unauthoritative painters.
I grew such a passion for Caravaggio that makes me impossible to pick a single work of his above the others. Thus I won’t tell you about my favourite one, but I’ll tell you about a recent discovery.

There have been several rumors about the findings of Caravaggio’s canvas through the past 2 decades, mostly rushed by market auctioneers to appropriate a lost masterpiece; it is known that many of his paintings have not come down to us: some have been destroyed while others simply fell into oblivion.

Everything has been said about Caravaggio, including his adventurous life and his wild personality, thus I want to avoid resuming his life here as it would be sadly reductive.
I can just say that, after training at a workshop in Rome in the late 1500s, his fortune experienced a turning point when the protection of a cardinal, who also was an art lover, started covering him also providing the first orders such as the Contarelli Chapel inside the church of San Luigi dei Francesi in Rome. In the early 1600s his fame consolidated and his works started being requested and desired. His subjects are very similar and sometimes he even painted multiple versions or “variations” of the same subject (as for the various St. John). However there is a work of his that still remains almost isolated, as it was eventually attributed to Caravaggio in 2006, after six years of restoration: The vocation of Saints Peter and Andrew.

Bernardo Strozzi – Vocation of St. Peter and Andrew. Copy from Caravaggio original

Until ten years ago it was a common understanding that such painting was lost. We just could see replicas of it such as the one of Bernardino Strozzi. Until then, we knew that the painting was ordered in the early 1600s and it was purchased by Charles I of England in 1637. Then, it was lost and substituted with a replica.

In 2006 a painting that was long considered a mere copy, at the level of a trainee expertise, was found in the maze of the English Royal collections. Left abandoned in a passage room of the Hampton Court Palace, it was identified as the original work by Caravaggio and a careful restoration brought back to light the skilful brush of this undisputed master.

Caravaggi o- The vocation of St. Peter and Andrew. Hampton Court Palace

The painting depicts Christ calling Simon, (later called Peter), and Andrew. There actually are no details to explain the subject, except three motionless figures on the edge of speaking something. Christ is very young, almost a teenager, inviting two much older men to follow him. It is probably the only work showing such a remarkable age difference between Jesus and the apostles; it is the moment of Christ saying a famous line: “follow me and I will make you men fishers”.

The “pathos” of the scene is underlined by the two dangling fishes that Peter holds, as if he just bought them at the market. You don’t see boats or nets full of fish, but just three men caught in the moment of having to make a decision: the confident young man who indicates way to go, (not just the immediate direction to take but a way further), and the two elders, caught off guard, trying to grasp the meaning of those words. They show amazement in questioning themselves if Jesus is actually addressing to them.

How do I get to Hampton Court?

The Royal Palace of Hampton Court is just outside London. The easyest and quickest way to get there is by train from London Waterloo. Trains usually run every 30 minutes. The local station is very close to the palace

Hampton Court Palace. Photo Courtesy of Hampton Court

The beauty of this painting lies in Caravaggio’s ability to catch the genuine surprise caused by a powerful new, as if someone just told Peter and Andrew they won the lottery and they question if they really are the recipient of the win. Their faces show disbelief, hope and embarrassment while understanding that Jesus choose them among many. And somehow they also distrust a bit the moment.
Caravaggio caught the definitive moment that all of us nourish in our chest:  disbelieving ourselves and distrust others. There is no joy in the painting, no awareness of the future martyrdom but just the distrust we have all experience in life sooner or later.

Caravaggio’s fortune lies in his ability to catch such moments. When you visit a museum, you cross several rooms and you watch hundreds of paintings, but once before a Caravaggio’s you just stop and stare. Something clicks inside you, because his works do not end on the canvasses but they move us deeply.
When you visit Hampton Court and wander through its rooms, you just stop before this painting even if you don’t know what master painted it.

And that’s why he is Caravaggio.

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