At the tender age of eighteen, my father saw Michelangelo’s Victory for the first time; the raw, emotional power of art grabbed him and held fast. He went on to earn a Master’s in Art History and secured work as a curator in a modern art museum, a position in which he toiled endlessly. Late one night, in a coffee-fueled fit of frustration, he calculated that his salary amounted to less than the hourly pittance of a parking attendant. He worked that much.
Though he curated his shows with pride, only the Renaissance and Baroque movements truly enthralled him, but one seldom found Midwestern artists producing grandiose works of the like in the 1980s. After a few years, my father decided to leave his field in pursuit of a business degree. He now works in finance, but he still curates. His visual sense for the arts has shifted to include an auditory one; he now casually reviews music like that by Trampled by Turtles for me, but ensures that I know the works of Baroque masters like Caravaggio too.
A mighty Italian painter, Vatican wonderboy, and shameless agent of debauchery, Caravaggio commands both my father’s and my attention. He rubbed dirt from his nose and elbows with Rome’s most wealthy with ease. An important clergyman commissioned Caravaggio’s Bacchus, a work that demonstrates not only his technical skill but willingness to challenge the conservative church doctrine of his employer through its overt homosexual themes.
He once killed a knight after indulging in too much aqua vitae. Living as an outlaw, he fled to Naples, Malta, and Sicily and yet continued to win commissions in spite of his culpable reputation. On his return to Rome to receive a pardon for the murder from the Pope, he mysteriously died. Fever, lead poisoning, or vengeance! All postulate his true untimely end, though retribution on behalf of the knight conjures the most intrigue. While Caravaggio’s antics are not ones to emulate, he certainly earned his status as a Baroque legend and beloved antihero.
Oddly enough, the Duluth-based band, Trampled by Turtles, seems to have written a rapid-strummin’ bluegrass song that oddly matches Caravaggio’s gritty life.
“Feet And Bones” by Trampled by Turtles
Hired guns surround my town
Tried to burn us to the ground
Hired feet and bones
To build a brand new home
All lined up to carry me
To hell just like before
Like tragedy and war
Winter seems so far away
Those hired feet and bones tried to leave Caravaggio with nothing but the ashes of his artistic glory; they chased him all over the Mediterranean and lined up to carry him to hell.
Justice waits for nothing, man
Your eyes have turned to stone
I waited as long as I can
And all those boys from Harlan came
And then set out alone
And they don’t mess around
Such an awful sound
The whistle woke me up at dawn
Justice waited for nothing; those hired feet and bones did not linger for a papal pardon.
I can’t stand to read the news
Of Jericho and swine
Touring bands and roofing crews
Is where we spend our time
Lie in the sty the poor man grows
Careful not to say too much
So tired of left and right
Or look straight at the light
I can’t stand to read the news. Such a talented artist but such a grotesque fate. Regardless, those hired feet and bones only helped to strengthen Caravaggio’s legacy by adding another facet of mystery. Incidentally, my father has extra bones in his feet, little knobs on the sides that I inherited alongside his interest in art and music. He too, and now I, reinforces Caravaggio’s legacy and Trampled by Turtles’ with his feet and bones.
Bacchus, Caravaggio, circa 1595
“Feet and Bones” by Trampled by Turtles: