by Antonella Bianco
Like a vanishing point, looking into the gallery on the second floor of the Capodimonte Museum, the work of Michele Merisi, aka Caravaggio, reveals, like a prodigious optical instrument, the intricate themes and ideas of Naples in the 17th century.
The Flagellation, commissioned by Tommaso De Franchis for a large sum of money, was at that time, intended for the chapel of Zì Andre, located in the first aisle on the left in the San Domenico Maggiore church – Spaccanapoli.
The painter arrived in the Neapolitan county town in 1606 on the run from Rome where, after a quarrel on the street, he killed a rival. Naples at the time was a fast and violent city, the perfect place for an artist of his disposition. A place where social hardship and poverty were dyed with a new colour, the colour of urban violence that was already known to the government, who by that time was trying to answer the disquiet of common people.
With its 350,000 inhabitants (the second biggest city in Europe after Paris), the city itself gave birth to a lot of panderers and outcast people.
It is no coincidence that one of the most turbulent districts in the town was the Spanish quarter, the Quartieri Spagnoli, a place which daily saw the clash between the Spanish culture (invaders) and the Neapolitans (locals). Speaking in sociological terms, this is where we can catch sight of the torturers of the ‘Flagellation’. With an austere style of monumental structures, the sculptural and plastic image of Christ standing by the column and resting in full light, deeply contrasts the shadow. Inside of it, the beasty and trivial figures of tortures shake their bodies as determined in continuing with anger – like body puppets of a sad carillon – in their tremendous commitment.
This is surely a painting which leaves us breathless because of its deep and strong authentic style and because of its historical relevance: the latter, which over time has shrouded the painting in a veil of eternity.
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A journalist and sociologist of communication, Antonella Bianco was born in Naples in 1984. At the age of six, she won an international literary prize for children, and she started to cultivate her passion for writing. Among her many professional experiences in journalism over the past decades, she worked for the national newspaper Il Resto del Carlino. She also worked for the television program Salotto in periferia, a political discussion program with studio guests. She is currently collaborating with the website Napolivillage, and also proof reads texts and collections.
A lover and practitioner of swimming and archery, she especially likes sport journalism, writing about: water polo, basket and several other minor sports. Contact Antonella at email@example.com.