'Bad boy' artist Caravaggio goes on display in Scotland

The Supper at Emmaus 1601 Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio.jpg Image copyright The National Gallery, London
Image caption The Supper at Emmaus (1601) is one of the Caravaggios on show in Scotland for the first time

Four paintings by Renaissance Old Master Caravaggio are the centrepiece of a major exhibition at the National Galleries of Scotland.

The Beyond Caravaggio exhibition features the work of the Italian artist and 30 other artists from all over Europe who were influenced by him.

It is a collaboration with the National Galleries in London and Dublin.

Edinburgh is the last stop for the works inspired by the man known as the "bad boy" of early 17th Century art.

This is the first exhibition of works by Caravaggio and his followers ever to be shown in Scotland.

Image copyright The National Gallery, London
Image caption Boy bitten by a Lizard (about 1594-5) by Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio

Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio was just 39 when he died in 1610.

Four years earlier he had murdered a man after a quarrel over a game of tennis and spent the rest of his life as a fugitive.

Christopher Baker, the acting director of the Scottish National Gallery, told BBC Scotland that Caravaggio was a "revolutionary artist".

He said: "You could see him as the archetypal bad boy artist who in his private life has a tempestuous time, who behaves appallingly, who is often in the courts and who is on the run having committed murder.

"In addition to all of that he is a great creative force.

"He produces these extraordinary pictures, which unsurprisingly, had an extraordinary impact and inspired other painters, who travelled to Rome and Naples from right across Europe and thought 'I need to do that, I want a piece of that as well'.

"That is the story this exhibition tells."

The one that got away

Image copyright The National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin
Image caption Caravaggio's The Taking of Christ (1602) is on loan from the Jesuit community in Dublin

One of the paintings in the exhibition, The Taking of Christ (1602), is from the National Gallery of Ireland, where it is on indefinite loan from the Jesuit Community in Dublin.

It was rediscovered in 1990 in a Jesuits' residence in the Irish capital.

Aidan Weston-Lewis, the curator of exhibition at the Scottish National Gallery, said it was "frustrating" to think that it was offered to the Scottish National Gallery for free in 1921 and turned down.

He said it was the only painting by Caravaggio that has ever been in a Scottish private collection.

It was bought by Scottish country gentleman William Hamilton Nisbet in Rome in 1802, directly from the Mattei family who had commissioned it 200 years earlier.

The painting was on display at Biel House in East Lothian for 120 years.

Mr Weston-Lewis said: "His descendants bequeathed a large group of pictures from that collection to the Scottish National Gallery.

"We didn't have space for them all.

"They were paraded in front of the trustees at the next board meeting and some were selected and some weren't.

"Very sadly from our point of view this painting got away. It was turned down."

Mr Weston-Lewis said the painting had been mistakenly re-attributed to a Caravaggio follower but even so the reputation of the Italian artist was so low at this time that the painting would not have been thought worth saving.

He said: "There was a degree of ignorance. It was only in the middle of the 20th Century that his reputation was resurrected fully.

"Now one could argue he's probably the most popular of all Old Master painters, or certainly up there among them."

Image copyright The National Gallery, London
Image caption Christ before the High Priest (about 1617) by Gerrit van Honthorst

Caravaggio's dramatic lighting and compositions, and his radically new approach to subject matter, exerted a huge influence on artists such as Gentileschi, Ribera, Valentin and Ter Brugghen.

Mr Baker said: "It is not just the style of painting but the new types of subject matter, often secular subjects that he excelled at producing, that thrilled other people.

"But also it's gaming, being in pubs, misbehaving, having a good time, this heady world of pleasure comes into painting at this moment through him, and that's what everybody else wants a bit of."

Image copyright The National Gallery, London
Image caption Salome receives the Head of John the Baptist (probably about 1630-2) by Matthias Stom

The four paintings by Caravaggio to be shown in the exhibition include The Supper at Emmaus (1601) and Boy bitten by a Lizard (about 1594-5) as well as The Taking of Christ (1602).

Ribera's The Martyrdom of St Bartholomew (1634), which was in the Cranstoun family collection at Corehouse in Lanarkshire for more than 170 years, has been borrowed for this exhibition from the National Gallery of Art in Washington.

Another painting, Christ displaying his Wounds (c.1625-35) by Spadarino, has been borrowed from Perth Museum and Art Gallery.

Image copyright The National Gallery, London
Image caption The Concert (about 1626) by Hendrick Ter Brugghen
Image copyright The National Gallery, London
Image caption The Four Ages of Man by Valentin De Boulogne (about 1629)
Image copyright The National Gallery, London
Image caption Lamentation over the Dead Christ (early 1620s) by Jusepe de Ribera
Image copyright The National Gallery, London
Image caption Lot and his Daughters leaving Sodom (about 1615-16) by Guido Reni

Beyond Caravaggio is on display at the National Galleries in Scotland from 17 June to 24 September. Entrance to the exhibit costs £12.

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