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The Genius of Rome (London)

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Currently on at the Royal Academy of Arts (20 January - 16 April),
collecting together works by Caravaggio, Annibale Carracci, Elsheimer and Rubens, and examining the way these artists established the baroque style. Royal Academy of Arts, Burlington Hous

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      15.03.2001 02:50
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      The Royal Academy has got it right with this show. The period depicted is an exciting one, covering the conception and birth of the Baroque period. There is a strong emphasis on painters' links with Caravaggio - many of the cards next to painting refer to the ways in which each painter is, or is not, "Caravaggesque". Seriously. Caravaggio is a pivotal figure in the history of art. His enormous contribution was to extol the virtues of realism, in contrast to the idealised world of the Renaissance painters. His saints have dirty hands and world-weary expressions; people's faces are shown in odd contortions, and the emotion they express is not always obvious - as in real life. To some extent he represented an alternative path to the more conventional route taken by Carracci, his contemporary, although in some ways their visions converge. Carracci himself was by no means uncontroversial or conservative. There are eight rooms in the exhibition, and the material is sensibly organised by theme. There are the still lifes, the holy families, the betrayal of Christs, and so on. It is clear how the works fit together and this clarity of conception makes it much harder to get tired out while walking round the exhibition. I often do, but this was an exception. The show took me somewhere between 60 and 90 minutes to see. In that time I was able to look at every painting, read about three quarters of the cards (leaving out those that didn't interest me), and sit down for five minutes to take stock and leaf through my brochure. I strongly recommend doing this when visiting any gallery - the brain can only take so much, and if you don't then you will find that you stop taking an interest in the individual painting and just walk around the rooms mechanically. I didn't get an audio guide - never do - so I can't comment on the quality of it. It is probably high, as the Royal Academy can usually be relied upon for thi
      ngs like that. Personally, I find it restricting to listen to someone babbling on about what's in front of me - far more fulfilling to discover for oneself. But at the same time, you may prefer to be as well informed as possible when you look at an exhibition, and that is equally understandable. Go with your instinct. As far as content goes, there are actually not all that many Caravaggio originals - perhaps one or two per room. Carracci features prominently, as do a couple of other important painters whose names I forget. Either way, one could not complain about the consistency of quality - most of the paintings there interested me in one way or another. The Caravaggios themselves are stunning, of course - the show is worth a visit just for them. Go while you can.

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      14.03.2001 05:15
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      Who is your favourite artist? While you chew over that nonsensical question, I'll tell you that if I were to answer such a multi-answerable question with a single name, it would be answered with the words Alberto Burri. You've probably never heard of him. Not many have. He's Italian, an abstract expressionist and quite considerably dead. However, this is a digression. More to the point, Caravaggio is not my favourite artist. But you already know that because not many abstract expressionism admirers say, 'Ooh, yeah! Caravaggio! Wow!'. But what should not be overlooked here is that Caravaggio was and remains a master. He was an artist whose works I have always adored, in all their baroque glory. However, it wasn't until my visit to the exhibition at the Royal Academy last month that I realised just how breathtaking Caravaggio's works are. But the question that plagues me is, have I found something I love in art or have I just been to a very, very good exhibition? In answer to this, I have been looking at a postcard I bought from the exhibition. It's nice, but all I'm thinking about while looking at it is the incomparable quality that was pumped into the exhibition by it's curators. This is an exhibition not to be missed. I would highly recommend the audio guide. Prepared to be stunned. The Genius of Rome, with it's Caravaggio, Rubens and Carracci works stands out as a true experience for all art lovers, students and 'ists' to revel in.

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