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216 × 138 × 20 mm
272 pages
67 illustrations, 62 in colour
01 Oct 2016
Renaissance Lives

Caravaggio and the Creation of Modernity Troy Thomas

Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio was among the great artists of the Baroque period of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Considered one of the founders of modern painting, he is famous for creating a radically new kind of realistic art. He painted directly from life, without preparatory drawings, to establish a high realism in his work and a powerful and stark psychological expressiveness in his protagonists. His paintings defied conventions to such a degree that their meanings have divided critics and viewers for centuries, while inspiring generations of subsequent artists from Velázquez to Rembrandt.

In this highly original study Troy Thomas examines Caravaggio’s life and art in relation to his most profound achievement: the creation of modernity. He explicitly focuses on the inherent tensions, contradictions and ambiguities in Caravaggio’s art – key areas often ignored by other experts. Structured thematically and chronologically, the book begins with an in-depth look at the artist’s early life and works, which establish and refine his realism, his dark settings and his subtle and clever ambiguity of genre and meaning. It describes his mature religious works that eschew the theatrical stock poses and expressions of past art. Lastly, it delves into the artist’s final hectic years as Caravaggio wandered from city to city in southern Italy, avoiding the papal police after a sword fight on the streets of Rome. Illustrated with sumptuous colour photographs, Caravaggio and the Creation of Modernity will appeal to all those fascinated by the history of art and the work of this great Renaissance artist.

‘[This book] is carefully designed as a forceful and concise statement on the artist's innovations . . . There's much more to say about this excellent book and Thomas offers daring interpretations on almost every page . . . Moments such as these underline both Thomas's skill as a historian and Caravaggio's towering genius.’ — Popmatters

‘This is not a typical chronological overview of the artist's life or a catalog of his works. Rather, the book is thematically conceived . . . This clever format allows Troy to continually circle back to previously discussed paintings but under different terms . . . this affordable book is a fitting complement to more traditional studies; it will help the reader better understand Caravaggio's importance to artistic modernity and the history of art in general.’ — Choice

‘Troy Thomas excellent new book provides an accessible but sophisticated examination of Caravaggio as an artist, focusing in particular on his mature Roman paintings. Building on previous scholarship and also offering some intriguing new interpretations of Caravaggios remarkable pictures, Thomas argues that the ambiguity of the artists approach to his subjects, along with his novel realism, psychological penetration, and dynamic immediacy, make Caravaggio a truly modern artist. Filled with interesting observations about Caravaggios pictures, this book examines Caravaggios uncomfortably human questioning of faith in his religious pictures, while situating the artist in the context of his time and arguing for the unprecedented modernity of his creations.’ — Dr. Babette Bohn, Professor of Art History, Texas Christian University

‘Troy Thomas presents an insightful, well written overview of the life and art of this fascinating painter. His examination of Caravaggio's radical style, eccentric persona, and ambiguous religious works against the background of cultural developments during the Counter-Reformation provides a fresh view of the artists originality and continuing influence.’ — Wendy Wassyng Roworth, Professor Emerita of Art History, University of Rhode Island

‘Troy Thomas’s excellent new book on Caravaggio is well-informed, well considered . . . Thomas leads us through a succinct but, nonetheless, comprehensive review of Caravaggio's career and critical reception, so much so that even readers who are new to Caravaggio studies will in the end find they have acquired a satisfyingly adequate introduction to the artist's life and production. Thomas is a master in compacting much information in relatively few pages and throughout, whatever the topic, demonstrates that he is absolutely and securely current on the vast Caravaggio bibliography, which is no small compliment to pay a scholar . . . In addition to the intellectual satisfaction afforded by the book, there is the visual delight of its abundant and excellent color photography . . . Thomas’s [book] deserves our attention, our respect, and our compliments for it invites us, indeed enables us, to see and understand Caravaggio effectively from a truly different and enlightening perspective, in a way few books on the artist do . . . it distinguishes itself from among the scores of new books, scholarly or otherwise, that have been published in recent years on Caravaggio.’ — Franco Mormando, Boston College, Religion and the Arts

‘Thomas is at his best when emphasizing Caravaggio’s artifice, the extent to which he went beyond the mere transcription of nature, and in analyzing the ways in which his works provoked an unprecedented visual and intellectual engagement with the viewer . . . His discussion of the art market and of Caravaggio’s role in cultivating a new audience of private collectors in Rome, who prized artistic freedom, novelty, and sophistication, is also valuable’ — Sixteenth Century Journal

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Troy Thomas is Associate Professor of Humanities and Art History at Pennsylvania State University, Harrisburg. He regularly writes and lectures on Italian Renaissance art, Italian Baroque art and art theory.


1 Early Life: Milan-Rome, 1571-99

2 The Modern Art Market; Early Patronage

3 Early Roman Works, c. 1592-9

4 A Stark Reality: Life and Mature Roman Works, 1599-1606

5 The Divine and the Human

6 Ambiguity

7 Oppositional Meanings

8 The Social Embedded in the Religious

9 The Created Personas of the Self-portraits

10 Scepticism, Eroticism, Irony, Wit

11 Darkness and Light

12 The Science of Art

13 The Religious Orders

14 The Reception of Caravaggio’s Art

15 Life in Souther Italy, 1606-10

16 Reconciliation and Spirituality

17 Late Works, 1606-10

Conclusion: Caravaggio and the Creation of Modernity


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Photo Acknowledgements