CARAVAGGIO AND SEXUAL ADJUSTMENT

tm. © 2007

By Paul Henrickson, © 1961,2005 The research procedure used here included a survey of the literature generally available pertinent to the art and the personality of Caravaggio on the one hand, and on he other, a review of the literature in the field of psychoanalysis as it has been applied to art and to artists. The one notable caution to be made about this method is that psychoanalytic conclusions, which are based on the life and the work of one artist, may not unlock the secrets of an other. To begin with I list those iconographic peculiarities of Caravaggio, which appear to be elaborations upon the general themes typical of the culture itself. A similar interest concerned Ernst Kriss (1) who stated that “under specific cultural and socio-economic conditions, during any given period in history or in the works of any one of the great creators within each period, how have the traditional themes been varied? What aspects of the themes are more or less frequent, and how are they modified? It seems that a wide field of research awaits for those interested in interdisciplinary integration

THE SUBJECT MATTER OF CARAVAGGIO
Nothing within the list of subjects painted by Caravaggio and discussed by Friedlaender suggests a significantly different orientation on Caravaggio’s part from that shared by his contemporaries or the history of Italian art generally. It was, therefore, necessary to look more carefully at Caravaggio’s selections from the totality of subject matter areas which were, by tradition, available to him as well as looking to his manner of presentation of the subjects he did choose. Of the fifty-five works discussed in Freidlaender’s definitive study of Caravaggio and can, without doubt, be attributed to him, there are twenty-two, or almost half, which deal with the subject of death. Of these twenty-two, eleven depict either the actual process or the result of it, the rest allude to it by means of symbols such as a skull, a snake, a wound, or the like. This number constitutes twenty percent, which allude to it. There is not one among those paintings whose subject matter is not related in some way or another to the pictorial tradition of

Mary Magdalene

classical Christianity. It is possible to assert that the subject matter area was largely determined not by Caravaggio but by the convention within which he worked. The subjects receiving emphasis in Caravaggio’s oeuvre and the manner of that emphasis is an expression of the painter’s interest. Fourteen other paintings depicting religious subjects but not concerned with death are to be noted. Three of these tell of the early childhood of Christ, two are concerned with the cult of the Virgin, two deal with the later life of Christ and six are concerned with a few of the Christian saints, Matthew, Paul, Francis, and Mary Magdalene. Another fourteen paintings deal with secular subject matter, four of these are portraits while three of them, excluding the “Head of Medussa” already accounted for, are classically derived subjects. Nine paintings are concerned with youths, music and fruit. The above division fails to give an accurate survey of Caravaggio’s pictorial interests for in his manner of handling the theme of, for example, “Rest On The Flight Into Egypt”, he manages to create an impression that is not specifically religious even while treating the subject in a substantially traditional manner. The most consistently religious works both in subject matte and in interpretation appear aesthetically commonplace and rather dull in contrast to those other compositions. “The Madonna Of The Rosary”, for example, gives one the feeling that Caravaggio was unhappy within St. Matthew the confines of the subject matter traditionally interpreted. The documents from the period concerning the reception on the part of the clergy of both the first “St. Matthew” and the “Death of the Virgin” contribute whatever contemporary indications should be necessary to underscore the truth of this interpretation. While constantly working within the subject matter of convention Caravaggio almost always allowed himself the freedom of interpretation and presentation, both of which were frequently off-beat. Some of the more common subjects of Christian painting he did not choose. He did no “Miracle of the Cross”, no “Marriage of St. Catherine”, no “Presentation of the Virgin”, no “Coronation of the Virgin”. We cannot go so far as to conclude that he had no interest in mystical subject matter for “The Martyrdom of St. Matthew” approaches a kind of mystical integration of subject matter through contrived formal means. He did no “Madonna and Child”, or “Adoration of the Magi” as such, although the two commissioned works “The Madonna di Loretta”, and “Madonna of the Rosary”, as well as “The Adoration of St. Francis and St’ Lawrence” might, conceivably fall into this category. He did no “Baptism of Christ”, nor, and this is interesting considering the concern Caravaggio had for the

subject of death, did he a “Judgment of Solomon”, a “Saint Sebastian”, or, even, a “Samson and Delilah” which is neither too removed compositionally nor theatrically from a “Judith and Holophernes” which is a subject he did paint. It would not be enough to say that Caravaggio preferred subjects which were related to death even if one used as evidence the sometimes artistically inferior achievements he attained when dealing with other religious subjects (2). Of the eleven works which deal with death as the subject matter scenes of decapitation appear in four of them. They are “The Head of Medussa” (which is a pagan subject matter), “The Sacrifice of Isaac” (the act is only about to take place), “David with the Head of Goliath” (it has been noted that “The Head of Goliath” is very much like the portraits which are known to be of Caravaggio himself), and “The Beheading of St. John The Baptist”. Saint John the Baptist is a person in whom Caravaggio takes considerable interest. He paints him as a nude lad of ten or twelve years of age in “Saint John with a Ram”, as an attractive but solemn youth in “Saint John the Baptist”, and at the end of his career but in the prime of his manhood in “The Beheading of Saint David with the Head of Goliath John the Baptist”. Incidentally, as it happens Caravaggio was only a few years older when he died than was The Baptist when he was beheaded at the request of Salome. What then was there about a “Judgment of Solomon”, or a “Massacre of the Innocents”, even a “Saint Sebastian” which did not offer Caravaggio sufficient opportunity to exploit what appears to be a strong preoccupation with death in a particular form? “The Judgment of Solomon” as a theme, is complicated by the presence of the mothers one of whom shows her concern for the child’s welfare when she attempts to restrain Solomon from dividing the child. Caravaggio’s father died when Caravaggio was about ten years old, we do not hear much about his mother, but we do hear twice about his brother, Baptisto. The first time we hear of him is when he signs the contract for Cravaggio’s apprenticeship to Simon Peterzano, and once, later in life when Caravaggio is reported to have refused to have recognized Baptisto who by then had joined a religious order. Was it possible that Caravaggio’s home environment was such that this theme was beyond his emotional grasp so that he

Saint John with a Ram

could not respond to it and therefore never chose it? “The Massacre of the Innocents” is a story filled with the blood and gore that wee a par of subjects he did paint, but Caravaggio did not paint the innocents. Is it possible that Caravaggio found the subject, although bloody, too impersonal, because of the great numbers involved? Was the martyrdom of St. Sebastian rejected because of the manner of death he suffered? The arrows did not actually succeed in dispatching Sebastian and in the end, we are told, it was necessary to behead him. However, as we never see this representation in Christian art and as Caravaggio did confine his subject matter choices to the conventions of the period we can assume he was not primarily interested in expanding the repertoire of Christian art. The probability is high that the choices he did make were more related to his personal interest in the subject, insofar as it may have given him an opportunity for self-expression, than to a desire to interpret Christian dogma or the stories of the saints as such.

PECULIARITIES OF CARAVAGGIO’S ICONOGRAPHY
When Wolfflin states that “artistic form and imagination are the same thing” he is speaking primarily of a national spirit, the statement also applies, however, to the individual (3). The following are such iconographic peculiarities which I consider significant to this problem. They are moments of obscured sensuality, monster creations, the motive of the open mouth, and aggressive moments and gestures. By the term “moments of obscured sensuality” I mean such things as the quality of touch or contact especially where it is neither compositionally nor anatomically necessary. These moments are comparable to what in speech would be the overtone, or the innuendo. In “Boy with Fruit” (Bacchino Malato, plate four in Freidlaender)* the hands do not merely hold the grapes, they caress them. In “Concert of Youths” (Musica, plate 5) the boy with the lute has his hands on the strings but he does not aggressively strum the instrument, in fact, he barely plucks at it. “St Francis in Ecstasy” (Plate 6), is a most provocative painting in that it is most Boy with Fruit difficult to ascertain the quality of the experience. It is obviously deep and sincerely felt, but is the ecstasy spiritual? This kind of ambiguity is to found in Bernini’s “Ecstasy of St. Teresa” of a generation later. Note particularly how the angel places his hand, or is about to do so, on the cord of the monk’s habit---the symbol of both hi chastity and his vows of poverty. The expression on he Monk’s face appears to indicate a release from tension, a complete involvement in the moment. “The Fortune Teller” (Plate 10) can best be

understood if it is compared to a copy of this painting (Plate 11) where the sense of psychological interest and involvement is missing. This, by the way, often the mark of a copy. The Caravaggio “The Fortune Teller” is more than a scene in which the young man is having his fortune told, there is little doubt that he is being propositioned. The tension that fills the observer after gazing at “Bacchus” (Plate 7), in increased when one realizes the difficulty of holding such a glass of wine in such a position without spilling any. One is almost unsettled by the display of self-assurance on the part of this young god of wine, and if one were to judge by the expression, divine in bed as well. This quite a different kind of sensual excitement from what one finds in “Amour Victorious” (Plate 32) where the little boy kind of fun is emphasized by the wing tip, which teasingly touches the skin. In “The Seven Acts of Mercy” (Plate 49) we see another lightness of touch in the embracing angels, who, metaphysically and psychologically are more concerned with each other than they are with those Amour Victorious beings they are supposed to be serving. In “Judith and Holofernes” (Plate 19), there is genuine passion in Holofernes’ hand as he grips and tears the sheet apart. Note the vaginal characteristics of the separated sheets. There is a tearing open. Hadn’t Judith lain with Holofernes? Are these the consequences, as Caravaggio sees them, of heterosexual love? Why do decapitation and castration seem worse than other forms of death and dismemberment? Did Caravaggio intend that we see a substitution for, or a relationship between the one and the other? So long as objects of art are the objects of analysis and interpretation these remain legitimate questions. For moments of a different kind of sensuality we should take the finger of Thomas in “The Incredulity of Thomas” (Plate 22) which he places in the wound. I know of no other painting where Thomas is shown making so bold a move even though the literary source seems to indicate that he is invited to do so. Something similar happens in “The Deposition of Christ” (plate 35), where a mourner, John (?) has placed or is about to place his finger in the wound of Christ. This act is not supposed to be a purposeful act and is not recorded in the Bible. This may be a transposition of events and in this painting prefiguring St. Thomas’ action of doubt. The proximity of the finger to the wound, once it is noticed, heightens the sympathetic tactile responses in the viewer. It is not a literal interpretation of the subject, which would have suggested to Caravaggio this sensual device. Surely, this did not go unnoticed by Caravaggio anymore than the finger of Christ which points nearly as a living hand would point, to the corner of the slab which will shortly cover his tomb. There is yet another kind of obscured sensuality to be found in “Martyrdom of St. Matthew” (Plate30). In the background where Caravaggio is supposed to have

painted himself and a friend, note, particularly the juxtaposition of the two heads so that the hair of one falls on to the cheek of the other, and, in the same manner, the thigh against the thigh. Our attention is called to these areas by the formal means of developing strong light and dark contrasts to be found there. Notice also, in the “Flagellation of Christ” (Plate 48}, where the head of one of the torturers is strongly situated against the inner portion of Christ’s thigh. One might contemplate he existence of a theme which runs through Caravaggio’s work weaving together two forms of fateful experience, death and Flagellation of Christ sensuality. These responses are often related, especially in a Judaic-Christian context, insofar as sensuality often encourages feelings of guilt and these, in turn, suggest punishment and death. If “he artist uses aesthetic pleasure to relive and to master his conflicts” as is suggested by Mark Kanzer in Contemporary Psychoanalytic Views of Aesthetics (4) could it still be possible that we are reading too literally these subtle ichnographic features in the work of Caravaggio which seem to speak of a certain kind of erotic pleasure obtained through the proximity of forms and “the light touch”? I am inclined to think not, for if these features had been less subtly handled, that is, made more of by calling our attention to the directly and immediately, the effect, over the long run, would have been less strong. The effect is stronger because it approaches the subliminal. By degrees we become conscious of our awareness of them. These particular features need not to have been in the pictures at all. They were not necessary in order to illustrate he particular event. It is also iconographically typical of Caravaggio to pick out elements of the human figure, for example, a finger tip (Raising of Lazarus”, Plate 57), the nose of the man above the right hand grave digger in “The Martyrdom of St. Lucy”, (Plate 55), an ear (“The Seven Acts of Mercy”, Plate 49), and the fingers of the hand over the face of Christ in “The Deposition” (Plate 35), and in the same painting the flick of light which reveals the bare flesh of John’s chest and shoulder. These things alone suggest an aesthetic, if not directly an erotic interest in the fleeting, the half-seen, and things in opposition.

REST ON THE FLIGHT INTO EGYPT
The date of this painting is uncertain, although it is probably around 1595. Its style makes it difficult for us to associate it as a product of the two or three-year period, which separates it from the “St. Francis in Ecstasy”, discussed earlier. The “Rest on the Flight Into Egypt” appears to be a performance piece, something on the order of a “Master’s Degree Thesis” in modern terms. In fact, it seems to have a great deal in

common with Pontormo’s “Pieta” in Santa Felicita in Florence which, if we interpret Berenson correctly, should be considered a Mannerist painting after Michelangelo. If the date, 1595, is correct it would make this painting product of Caravaggio’s early years and, at such an early stage of his development, it is not at all impossible that he could have made a revolutionary change within a two-year period, especially if, as I suspect, he was, himself, bored with his display of virtuosity in the “Rest on the Flight Into Egypt”. The change, I believe, is only technical and not a change in communication as it might, at first, appear to be. Caravaggio’s angel divides the painting, standing with his back to those who view the picture; he faces Joseph who holds the sheet music from which the angel reads the notes he plays on the violin. The ground beneath Joseph’s feet is strewn with stones, dead leaves, and gravel. To the right of the angel are the Virgin and Child who appear not to recognize that the angel is there, below them the ground is lush green and fruitful. The unawareness of the angel’s presence is reminiscent of Ingmar Bergman’s “Seventh Seal” where only the innocent and seemingly foolish Joseph appears to have the ability to see visions and hear voices. Caravaggio’s Joseph appears both entranced and embarrassed by the presence of this nude angel. Joseph’s feet embrace each other very much in the manner of a little boy who is uretherally excited and needs to pass water. His knees are held closely together and the torso is slightly huddled. The pose is generally characteristic of embarrassed sexual excitement to which the person experiencing the sensation is unaccustomed. Is this a reminiscence of Caravaggio’s own past, or, perhaps, an observation of life around him? I this the simplemindedness and absence of sophistication in the enjoyment of sexual things which lingers on in the old man Joseph? Would it be legitimate to assume that Caravaggio at twenty-one or twenty-two years of age had so reflected upon the qualities of innocence which made u some early sexual experiences that he was able to project this awareness through the medium of his painting? Friedlaender tells us that he was intelligent and literate so it would not seem inconsistent to suppose that he was also preconscious about awarenesses that concerned human beings. My estimate might well include the possibility that Caravaggio could identify with the event if not specifically with either the angel or with Joseph. The question, which this raises about Caravaggio’s early sexual experiences, cannot be answered here. Nevertheless we are tempted to continue questioning whether the relief one sees on the face of St. Francis in “Saint Francis in Ecstasy” is similar to the detent moment associated with orgasm. The angel in “The Rest on the Flight Into Egypt” stands with his legs sensually caressing each other. Is this autoerotism? Is it only the male of the species who, through sexual aberration, is capable of artistic illusion and holy visions while becoming totally unproductive…as Joseph was until later we are told…in any natural way? Meanwhile the Virgin is unaware of unnatural creation. She is eminently practical and so essentially fruitful that life springs up abundantly around her. The angel and Joseph fit compositionally as a unit with garment flowing into garment, head faces head with only the head of an

ass between . If the 16th century Italian held the same rich variety of meaning for that term, as does our language today it might prove an interesting elaboration upon the theme. Formally, there is little compositional harmony between the Virgin and Child on the one hand and the angel on the other. See how the angel turns his back and intrudes the tip of his wing …again the light touch! The wing of artistic inspiration is an illusion. Why is Joseph so entranced, so seduced by this vision? Why is he not busy functioning as a father? albeit a foster father, by tethering the ass, gathering wood, looking over his wife and child sleeping? Is the father image in Caravaggio so distorted, so incomplete, that, to him, a father is an illusion? We might remember that Caravaggio’s father died while the boy was still young and Baptisto, the older brother, who would have been seen as father replacement was scorned by Caravaggio after he joined a monastic order and thus effectively, and symbolically, removed himself from that category.

MONSTER CREATIONS
In a few of Caravaggio’s paintings one can be aware of some inadequacies of treatment, faulty anatomy, or some other ambiguity. There are at least four of these canvases, which reveal this kind of inadequacy and which, as a result, create a monster image. Look, for example, at “Salome with the Head of St. John”(Plate 59), where the heads of Salome and Herodias seem to share the same body. There is in the Biblical account of this story that Herodias operated through Salome to achieve her desires. It may be that Caravaggio did not mean to portray this idea, but whether he did or not, what we see before us is a monster dream image. Slightly less potent is the ambiguity in “The Resurrection of Lazarus” (Plate 57) where the two figures to the right of the man who caries Lazarus by the feet are joined, their limbs and their heads are confused. In “Seven Acts of Mercy” (Plate49), the feet and legs of the dead man are on the viewer’s side of the wall which separates him from the priest who lights the way. Where is the rest of the body which now seems to disappear directly through the wall of the prison, or is it just scraping by the corner of the building? One tries, unsuccessfully, of course, to fit the head of the old man in prison and who suckles the breast of the young woman to this body. Not to such a great extent do the two figure to the right in the “Maryrdom of St. Matthew” (Plate30) appear ambiguously joined, although some confusion exists. What these awkward placements of bodies and, or, their parts, do is to leave the viewer with the impression that these are only visual notations of the characters involved and not meant at all as meaningful participants in a drama. They are reminders only of the roles they play. Caravaggio’s interest in creating a totally meaningful composition in which the characters he portrayed might reasonably function manifested itself only periodically. “Personality studies”, says Freud, “do not claim to explain creative genius, but they do reveal the factors which awaken it and the sort of subject matter it is destined to choose” (6). I think it doubtful that these monster creations are subject matter

choices, which Caravaggio consciously made, although a case might be made that this distortions are subliminal precursors to cubism. No reason exists which I am able to recognize which would explain their presence in their presently coarse painting technique had Caravaggio been consciously concerned about them. It seems, rather, that the definition that art is a creation of a waking dream is more adequate. Not all factors of a dream attain to the same degree of clarity (7). Could it be that these represent the emergence of material from the pre-conscious to the conscious as some psychoanalytic writers have suggest accounts for the monster creations inhabiting the art of the Middle Ages?

THE MOTIVE OF THE OPEN MOUTH
The motif of the open mouth, orans figure, blood, teeth occur very frequently in various combinations in the work of Caravaggio. Of the thirty-six works, which exhibit variations of this motif only, six will be discussed in detail. The open mouth of “Head of Medusa” (Plate14) reveals teeth and a quantity of blood issuing from the severed head. The presence of snakes here is iconographically necessary and because of this will not enter into our discussion. “Judith and Holofernes” (Plate 19), repeats the same motif as does Goliath in “David with the Head of Goliath” (Plate 41). It seems significant that the three heads just mentioned also bare striking likenesses to each other as well as to that one which is thought to be a self-portrait in “Seven Acts of Mercy”. The open mouth-orans motif can be found in two very striking and admirable canvases. These are “The Conversion of St. Paul” (Plate33), and “Deposition of Christ” (Plate 35). In the “Conversion” the orans figure may not be noticed immediately for it appears up-side-down in the fallen figure of Paul. However, the very striking orans figure in the “Deposition” (the figure that Caravaggio included when he re-compositioned Ruben’s treatment of the subject reveals better almost than any other example the meaning such a gesture might convey. Traditionally, the orans figure symbolizes the disembodied soul, and as we can see this traditional meaning would not be out of place here, yet, how absolutely effective it is as a yielding and submitting figure. The prostrate figure of Paul is just as yielding and defenseless. The horse in the presence of a spiritual phenomenon gently lifts…and by this act makes impotent, yet still threatening…its powerful right front leg. It is not difficult to sense in both of these canvases an absolute submission to divine authority. It is, perhaps, in these paintings hat we may be able to extract an important clue to the character of the man who panted them. Caravaggio may have felt in his more bitter moments, that self-inflicted castration (8) was a means of expiating some guilt the nature of which can only be inferred. There are certain events in his life, which tend to support this view.

As a review of the major incident in his life will show, Caravaggio frequently found himself in minor skirmishes. Only once, however, did serious harm come to anyone but himself . The murder of Ranuchio of Terni on May 31, 1606, apparently threw Caravaggio into such turmoil that he was unable either to admit his guilt or to prepare adequately for his escape. He most he legally suffered, in addition to the physical injuries during the fray, was placement under house arrest. He did eventually escape and fled through the Sabine Hills to the protection of the Duke Marzio Colonna. The very frequent brushes with the authorities would today have labeled him a habitual offender. With the exception of this accidental homicide nothing but trifling incidents characterized what were considered at the time as annoying an objectionable behavior. I am frankly surprised that they have attracted so much attention as to have earned Caravaggio the reputation as a troublemaker and a criminal. The first recorded offense occurs after 1600 when, as Freiedlaender (9) points out, Caravaggio was 27 years old and “well after his irresponsible years of his unprotected youth…as one reads these accusations made against him from month to month and year to year one gets the impression that he had a head-strong disregard for his own safety.” Freidlaender also observes that none of Caravaggio’s misdemeanors were ever committed for personal gain. “Rather they served as outlets for unbridled temperament which in an obviously pathological way could be excessively irritated by the smallest incident, with no regard for himself or others.” He clue to what it was that so easily and “excessively irritated” may be found in the one account of his troublemaking for which Caravaggio is very likely guilty of premeditation. Mariano Pasqualone in 1605 charged Caravaggio for assault and battery. Caravaggio, apparently, did not deserve the charge, but his reasons, as we understand them, had more to do with the honor of a third person than his own. A young girl whom Caravaggio was using as a model (probably for “The Madonna of the Rosary”) was the object of Pasqualone’s affection. Pasqualone had been rejected by the mother of the girl in question and he retaliated by insinuating to the girl’s mother that the chaste young girl’s honor would most seriously be in question if she should serve Caravaggio as a model. There is some indication that Caravaggio committed the attack while obeying the demands of his own sense of chivalry. Reflectively, it is possible that Caravaggio resented the implied insult to his own behavior since; it does appear that while he didn’t desire the female he respected them. The final outcome of the situation provided Pasqualone with a document from Caravaggio in which he states that Pasqualone, with a sword n hand, is the equal of any other man. What an odd document to require! What is the reason behind this? Although, at this point, it is Pasqualone’s manhood, which is being legally proclaimed as adequate, with the proviso that he be provided a sword, is it sufficient for us to interpret this odd event as the key note to the quarrelsome nature of a man who may have wished to prove his own manhood by physically abusive behavior? I do not think so. The incident indicates, I believe, Caravaggio’s chivalric nature

being brought to the defense of his own sensitive responsiveness, chivalry put to the use of protecting the feminine in man.

AGGRESSIVE MOMENTS AND GESTURES
There is in Caravaggio a variety of aggressive behavior depicted. The most obvious and the richest is “The Martyrdom of St. Matthew” (Plate 30) where the gesture of the slayer (who in this picture is white but historically is supposed to have been black …Berenson), even the sword itself appear to be welcomed by the saint whose pose is similar to that of the figure of Paul in the “Conversion”. The only difference we see between these two ornas figures is that in “The Conversion of Saint Paul” it is something unseen which has subdued the saint and the position of the horse’s withdrawn leg merely emphasizes the fact that the mortal beings present are not the aggressive forces. Matthew, on the other hand, is in a position where he must choose the quality of his death. The angel not merely holds but thrusts the palm of martyrdom as close to the saint as possible. It is impossible for the angel to lean forward anymore than his twisting body is already doing without tumbling into the mortal world. The angel does all he can to provide Matthew with an honorable death through sanctified martyrdom while the executioner attempts to force Matthew into accepting an unqualified death. How poignant and psychologically potent this scene really is. Will Matthew escape martyrdom but not death? Will it be death by seduction or sanctification? One senses here that the decision rests with Matthew, that the event will certainly take place but the quality of the death turns on the saint’s state of mind at that ultimate moment. To reach the palm he must meet the sword, in other words he must strive for martyrdom, but need only to be passive to receive death, hence Matthew is seduced by the concept of sanctification. What implications such a subtle behavior in which the balance between sin and justice, divine and eternal guilt, or innocence may have provided us with a clue as to other areas in which Caravaggio exhibited some ambivalence (10). Ernst Kriss’s discussion on “Aesthetic Ambiguity” (11) is particularly useful here in that he maintains that some ambiguity is especially suited to ambivalent attitudes, (e.g., the Latin sacer means both “holy” and “accursed”), that it involves a shift in psychic level and that when it is distinctly aesthetic it is expressive. He also speaks of a relationship between ambiguity, interpretability with flexibility, and the survival of the work. Apparently some ambiguity tends to assist the longevity of its position in the public eye. Unfortunately we are not able to follow this line of the discussion here. It would seem to be a very interesting, if not also fruitful one, for future study. Other moments of aggressive ambiguity can be seen in “David with the Head of Goliath” (Plate 41), where David’s expression appears to indicate that he really didn’t want to do it, that it was done only because it had to be done, and he didn’t like the results. Such an idea is very different from the one we get from

Michelangelo’s David or what we get from the Davids of Verrochio or Bernini. There is a mixture of pity, loathing, and even love in David’s face as he gazes on the bloody head of Goliath, which he has just severed from its body. Even the expression on Goliath’s face has qualities of both horror and reflective enjoyment.

THE SYMBOLISM OF THE CORNER
One of the more noticeable of Caravaggio’s characteristics is his frequent use of a device, which cuts off a corner of the canvas. It is this device, which has been used by many of the Caravaggisti who, I think, used it mechanically without either the artistic or the psychological subtlety, which characterizes Caravaggio’s use of it. Samuel J. Sperling (12) gives a brief but interesting account of the symbolic meaning of the corner. He informs us that the meaning of the word “corner” was derived from the Latin cornu, which meant “horn”. Psychoanalytically. A horn is a common phallic symbol. The Hebrew word keren means “corner”, “horn”, “foundation” (here, by the way, is another example of the ambiguity discuss by Kriss), and the German word ecke meaning “corner” is the same as the Yiddish word for “penis”. Sperling gives an account of the mythological use of this symbol that explains its own ambivalent characteristics. The bi-sexual symbolism of the cornu or horn is strikingly represented in the mythological description by Aeschylus of his fight with Hercules. Being vanished, Aeschylus “assumed the form of a bull”; but Hercules threw him down again and “rent my horn from my head. The Naiads took it, and filled it with fragrant flowers. Plenty adopted my horn and made it her own, and called it ‘cornucopia’”. In this fable the horn undergoes inversion from a protruding, penetrating, attacking organ to a receptive one, corresponding to the animal inverse symbolism of the corner.

Lute Player

Some of the more obvious instances where it might be said that Caravaggio prevented entry into a corner and, aesthetically, at least, may be said to have little justification for it can be seen in “Boy Bitten By a Lizard” (Plate 9), “Lute Player (Plate 13), “Magdalene” (Plate 15), Saint Catherine (Plate 18), and :David With the Head of Goliath: (Plate 41). Why Caravaggio should have…in terms only of the

Saint Catherine

Saint Peter

painted surface… denied himself the opportunity to compose, that is, integrate these areas, I am unable to answer. However, he does not always deny these areas, see. For example, “The Crucifixion of St. Peter” (Plate 34), where the composition seems to originate near the center of the canvas and to spring forward into all four corners, penetrating them and integrating them into the composition. Using Sperling and Kriss’s psychological terminology it can be said that Caravaggio is ambivalent in his attitude toward the female counterpart of the corner and feels exuberantly free when it comes to the male penetration of the corner but inhibited when it comes to the female (cf St. Catherine) or a euphebic male (cf. The Lute Player). An instance of the masculine element of the corner may be seen particularly forcefully in the deposition of Christ (Plate 35) where the corner of the sepulchral slab juts out menacingly. To a lesser extent it is also noticeable in “Armor Victorius” (Plate 32), where a fold of the bed sheets juts out between the legs of the boy. In “The Calling of St. Matthew” (Plate 29), also, the hollow darkness beneath the table is effectively broken up and the direction reversed by the forward push of the Saint’s knee.

SUMMARY
It is possible, I believe, with the information we have available to hypothesize that Caravaggio was very likely homosexual. This is not meant to imply that he was a practiced homosexual or to exlude the possibility that he was one. It is possible that he recognized this characteristic in himself that he, at times, found its existence incompatible with and contradictory to the masculine physical frame into which he had been poured. From the reports we have of his physical appearance he was not an attractive man and the alleged self-portraits seem to confirm that he had that impression of himself as well. These factors, which may have worked against his experiencing any satisfactory homosexual relationships, together with a societysupported learned rejection of sodomy, may have impelled him toward those subjects , which dealt with castration disguised as decapitation. In this way, as a form of self-imposed punishment, he may have been able to escape the torment he, from time to time, may have felt and such psychological torment may have counted for the not infrequent retributional behavior he seems to have attracted from others in the community. There are at least three instances and possibly four if we count Isaac in “The Sacrifice of Isaac” (Plate 20) which is thought to be a selfportrait painted from the memory he had of himself as a boy, where the likeness to Caravaggio is strong and the subject deals with a potential decapitation. We may consider the last four years of his life as the most intense not merely because it was the most active period creatively (Freidlaender), or because after 1600 his personal life is regularly punctuated by an ever increasing severity of civil disturbances, but because these two areas, the creative and the civil, become symptomatic of an ever growing inner struggle between self-love and selfdestruction, between freedom to express the self and feelings of guilt for doing so.

* * * NOTES 1) Ernst Kriss, “Psychoanalytic Explorations in Art”, New York: International Universities Press, Inc.,1952,P/18/ Kriss’s footnote to this statement follows: “A significant attempt in this direction by Wolfenstein and Leltes (1947,1950) is connected with the study of recent American and European films.” For other fruitful suggestions see Friedman and Gassel (1950), and particularly Kanzer (1948,1950), who stresses that any “cultural” interpretation presupposes a correct and inclusive psychological interpretation. The anthropological literature supplies more instances pf an approach similar to the one postulated above. 2) Edith & Ernst Zierer, “Leonardo da Vinci’s Artistic creativity and Creative Sterility”, “American Imago”, 14,1957.347ff. ,state that a painter cannot will integrative or disintegrative results. The level of integration or disintegration is completely independent of technical skill, originality, or talent. 3) Ibid,Edith & Ernst Zierer. Pp.345-369. “it no longer seems doubtful that what man has experienced during infancy or childhood (particularly if experience is restricted to external events but includes patterns of conflicts and their solution) may influence as a recurrent theme (or as a defense against it) his thought processes, his dreams, and his artistic creations. 4) Mark Kanzer, “Contemporary Psychoanalytical Views of Aesthetics”, Journal of The American Psychoanalytic Association, 5, ’57,p.516. 5) I can also see the justification for Freidlaender’s comparison of this picture with Lorenzo Lott’s “Marriage of St. Catherine” and Jacopo Bassano’s figure in the front left of his “Flight” and the figure in the same position in Caravaggio’s “The Crucifixion of Saint Peter”. 6) Mark Kanzer, op.cit.,p514 (quoting from Sigmund Freud) 7) Ibid.,p.516. 8) Symbolically referred to by means of decapitation. Kohut Heinz in “Death in Venice”, by Thomas Mann. “A Story about the Disintegration of Artistic Sublimation”, The Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 26, 1957, New York, hypothesizes that artistic activity may be related to the feminine principle, and may derive energy from the sublimation of infantile wishes. He also tells us that death is a recurrent theme in Mann (as we have seen it is in Caravaggio) and that the artistic device of death was used as means of symbolically aiding Mann to continue living so that he might continue to work. I am viewing Caravaggio’s emphasis on the same theme as a device for inflicting self-punishment, as an expiation for guilt without necessarily, as it was with Mann, its being a device to continue living in order to be able to continue to work. 9) Walter Freidlaender, “Caravaggio Studies”. Princeton University Press, 1955,p.119 10) Was Caravaggio bi-sexual, homosexual, or heterosexual? If he was homosexual did he express this overtly? Look, for example, at “The Lute

Player” (Plate 13), is this a male or a female figure? Berenson thought it to be male. If Caravaggio was really a brawler in the true sense of the term, why was he so often a loser? What is the relationship between some repeated “masculine” activity and consistent failure in it? 11) Loc.cit., “Psychoanalytic Explorations in Art”, p.243 12) Sanuel J. Sperling. “The Symbolic Meaning of the Corner”, “The Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association”,5,1957.pp250ff.

BIBLIOGRAPHY
Abell,Walter, “The Collective Dream in Art”, Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1957,378pp. Berenson, Bernard,”Caravaggio: His Iconography and His Fame”, London: Chapman & Hall, 1953,122pp’ ---------------“The Italian Painters of the Renaissance”, New York: Phaidon Publishers, Inc.,1953,320pp. Freidlaender,Walter, “Caravaggio Studies”, Princeton: Princeton University Press,1955,15pp. Hinks,Roger, “Caravaggio’s Death of the Virgin”, London: Oxford University Press,1955.15pp. Kriss, Ernst, “Psychoanalytic Explorations in Art”, New York: International Universities Press, 1952, 358pp. Longhi, Roberto, “Il Caravaggio”, Milano: Aldo Martello, Editore. (n.d.), 46pp. -----------------“Caravaggio, Michelangelo Merisi, 1573-1610”, Milano: Aldo Martello, Editore (n.d.), 13pp. Schneider, Daniel F., “The Psychoanalyst and the Artist”, New York: Farrar, Straus & Co, 1940,30pp. Venturi,Lionello: “Four Steps Toward Modern Art”, Bampton Lectures in America,#8, New York: Columbia University Press, 1956,75pp. Wolfflin,Heinrich. “Ther Sense of Form in Art”, New York:Chelsea Publishing Company,1958,230pp.

PERIODICALS
Beres, David, “Communication in Psychoanalysis and in the Creative Process”, Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association”,5,1957,408-423. Costa,Massucco Angiola, “Remarks on the Psychology of Art”, Acta, Psychology, 14,1958,1-11. Geil,George A., “The Use of the Goodenough Test for Revealing Male Homosexuality”, Journal of Clinical Psychology,6,Oct:1944,307-313. Gombrich,F.M. “Psychoanalysis and the History of Art”, International Journal of Psychoanalysis,5,1957,401-408.

Hugerland, Helmut, “The Aesthetic Response Reconsidered”, Journal of Aersthetics,16,1957,32-43. Kanzer, Mark, “Contemporary Views of Aesthetics”, Journal of the American Psychological Association,5, 1957,514-532. Kohut, Heinz, “’Death in Venice’ by Thomas Mann: A Story About the Disintegration of Artistic Sublimation”, Psychoanalytic Quarterly,26,1956,206208. Sperling, Samuel J. “The Symbolic Meaning of the Corner” Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association,5, 1957,250-259. Wangh, Martin, “The Scope of the Contribution of Psychoanalysis to the Biography of the Artist”, Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association,5, 1957,564-575. Zierer,Ernst & Zierer, Edith, “Leonardo Artistic Productivity and Creative Sterility”, American Imago,14,1957,345-369.

ADDITIONAL NOTES ON CARAVAGGIO ( Gozo,2002)
It is with regret and not a little irritation that I have read, somewhere, comments to the effect that Caravaggio was responsible for the “naturalism central to the Baroque style throughout Europe”. At such times I am in considerable sympathy with Ludwig Wittgenstein who, I have been led to believe, achieved his status as a genius for noting that it was important to the interests of adequate communication that words be defined and used precisely if some understanding in the communication were to be assured. Wile it might be offered that the southern European resident in the area of the Mediterranean might be a bit more physically expressive in the style of social communication than the general run of the English or Scandinavian communicant, I find it difficult to accept the suggestion that the characters which inhabit the world of Caravaggio are portrayed naturalistically. Granted that auxiliary characters, such as the three unidentified and anonymous characters assisting in the “Crucifixion of Saint Peter”, and, to some extent, Saint Peter himself, are portrayed, in their positions, as one might see them were one to have been an eyewitness to the event. But it is at that point that the “naturalism” ceases for in no way, that I am able to accept, is the dark presentation of this scene able to be explained as the one would see if there present at the event. The most effective demonstration of this thesis would be to compare this painting with “Christina’s World” by Wyeth and Monet’s “Poppy Fields” The Pinacoteca Capitolina in Rome possesses a “St. John , The Baptist” of more than common charm, sophistication, and seduction, and while the observer might feel that he is gazing upon a moderately unwashed ragazzo, the

compositional arrangements can, in no way, be called “naturalistic”. To underscore the point once again, the portrait by Wyeth of “Anna Christina” should adequately settle the matter. The Caravaggio composition is not at all unlike that of “The Laocoon” of the Hellenistic period. The important aesthetic differences in these three works may be stated s follows: the Wyeth “Anna Christina” allows the observer to maintain an objective and detached , but not unsympathetic, stance while, the other two challenge the observer to participate and therein lies all the important differences…differences in the aesthetic message…in the one case one is a dispassionate observer and in the other two a passionate participant. All three are valid statements, which are not served well by the term “naturalism” UNLESS one is courageous enough to elaborate and it is ONLY through such elaboration that art and the criticism of art are well served. On the matter of “naturalism” I think it might be instructive to check out the many faces of its presentation, but, as that is, without doubt, a very large subject I have selected only two examples of work that legitimately may be labeled “naturalistic”. One example is the painting by Andrew Wyeth called “Christina’s World” (even the rather heavy psychologically overtimes might be considered natural), the other is a landscape by Claude Monet entitled “Poplars”. Both of these works are intentionally dealing with what appears to be factual visual aspects of the natural environment. The Wyeth world, which seems to be referencing the mid-west section of the United States describes a degree of atmospheric clarity, which very nearly allows one to count the very number of the blades of grass. On the other hand, the painting by Monet of “Poplars” was evidently painted at a time when there was not only active precipitation, a mist descending upon earth, but, as well, an evaporation of moisture which had already descended which consequently produced a vaporousness between the observer and the objects being observed. Both of these works can be considered naturalistic, yet, they are very different from each other. Now, in what way might the works of Caravaggio be considered “naturalistic” which is a term that has been used to describe them? The subject matter of Caravaggio’s work includes both exterior and interior scenes, yet whether the scene is one or the other doesn’t see to make a great deal of difference to Caravaggio. He will still treat them as though there were a strong artificial light, a theatrical spot directed toward the subject, in short, to some significant degree isolating the main figures from their backgrounds. While I have, from time to time, observed both interior and exterior scenes in such dramatic lighting circumstances they are, generally, to be found in highly unusual situations such s in the theatre, which is a connived situation and highly focused, or in an urban emergency where the bright lights of police or rescue vehicles highlight what is usually an emergency situation. I have seen this, as well, at political rallies, which, I suppose, might tell us something about the manipulative techniques of politicians. It would be, I think, an unreasonable stretch of the term to refer to

these situations as “naturalistic”. What is, however, naturalistic about Caravaggio is his use of rather rough, basic, and uncultivated subjects, that “naturalism” in Caravaggio cannot, I believe, be denied. I also attribute this choice to his preference for what some might call “rough trade”, that is, the “worker level” of eroticism in society.