The Conversion of Saint Paul and Crucifixion of Saint Peter

(Santa Maria del Popolo)

Santa Maria del Popolo at the northern end of Piazza di Popolo houses Caravaggio’s Conversion of Saint Paul and Crucifixion of Saint Peter. Both paintings have only a few pictorial elements but the sense of space in both is claustrophobic. A farm horse steps warily in the congestion of Saint Paul’s conversion and an executioner has to stoop to fit within the frame of Saint Peter’s crucifixion. The crucifixion scene is lit by one light source whereas the conversion scene uses more complex lighting. Strong but diffuse light comes from the right of the conversion frame lighting evenly the flank of the horse yet is well forward and misses the right, out-stretched arm of Saint Paul. The light directly above Saint Paul accords with The Living Bible’s account of the scene in Acts 9:3 “a brilliant light from heaven spotted down upon him!” However, Caravaggio’s spotlight on Saint Paul is not brilliant, but more strong, diffused stage lighting, whereas the biblical light was so bright that Paul was blinded for three days. Caravaggio’s differing lighting directions and strengths, and sufficient fill light to illuminate shadows, produces a hyper real illusion of modelling and form. Portrait photographers know Caravaggio’s use of sidelight, and overhead butterfly light, as Rembrandt lighting. And the backgrounds of both paintings are like the rolls of paper found in the photographer’s studio that hang behind the subjects then curve and run along the floor towards the camera. With use, the paper buckles and ripples. Rather than paper, Caravaggio used fabric. You can see the folds. The sumptuous lighting reveals the nails that pin Saint Peter’s feet aren’t driven far enough into the cross to be secured. And Saint Peter looks anxiously at his nailed left hand. There is no blood! Nor do his feet bleed. Is he already dead? Is this a dream? or just a rehearsal?

The Devil’s District

November 19 (Mercoledi)

Our last day in Rome. We arrive at Metro Barberini and find the Trevi Fountain. Such a big monument for such a small space. Along Via Veneto is Bernini’s seashell drinking fountain with the bees. The crypt of Santa Maria della Concesie is crammed with the bones of 4000 Capuchin monks. Intact skeletons in robes lie in state. Capuchin monks weren’t very tall. The gardens of Villa Borghese are expansive and beautiful. As we have no reservation we will have to return in the afternoon to visit the Galleria Borghese and see the seven Caravaggio paintings. We lunch at the Spanish Steps than walk to The Pantheon. What a primal place. There is power here. We cross the Tiber on Ponte Sisto, Rome’s first bridge. We walk through Travestere the devil’s district. I’m transported to Il Capo in Palermo. Joelle feels uneasy in Travestere. Perhaps in summer and overgrown with vines it is more like the guidebook. But Santa Maria di Travestere is beautiful. We are spent and too tired to return to Galleria Borghese. Rome’s taxis are affordable so from Ponte Garibaldi we taxi to Hotel Center and stay in for the night with convenience store food.</p.