Cardinal del Monte, Caravaggio and the Catamites
Francesco Maria Bourbon Del Monte Santa Maria was a worldly man of sophisticated taste, created Cardinal in 1588, he was a respected diplomat with aspirations to the Throne of St. Peter. Given the Bourbon connection and his pro French sympathies, the Spanish vote would quash such aspirations. That is perhaps just as well,for there are so many popes, they all seem to run together, even for this manic (Renaissance/humanist) papal sympathizer. The good Cardinal is best known for his promotion of Caravaggio, in particular securing the commission to decorate the Contarelli Chapel. The tenebristic masterwork ,The Calling of St. Matthew (in addition to The Inspiration of St.Matthew and The Martyrdom of St. Matthew ) mandates we offer gratitude to Cardinal del Monte for making such fine use of his power and influence.
Thank you Cardinal.
Cardinal Francesco Maria del Monte
b. 5th of July 1547
d. 27th of August 1627
portrait by Ottavio Leoni, 1616
The Calling of St. Matthew
oil in canvas
When I look closely at this marvelous painting , I am frankly drawn to the strange cast of characters this unscrupulous tax collector has surrounded himself with. Soon enough good Matthew will reject worldliness for Our Lord, but Caravaggio captures this moment of revelation with Matthew surrounded by penny pinching money grubbers and young men/ boys in rakish peacock-ery.
This taste for plumed boys with slashed sleeves seems to reflect the taste of Caravaggio and his patron, rather then the dear Saint.
We will see these boys time and again, with or without their flamboyant finery, in Caravaggio’s work in general and in particular within Cardinal del Monte’s collection. The Metropolitan Museum of Art , which holds The Musicians informs us that Cardinal del Monte’s collection held a number of paintings that suggest a taste less then chaste. Although the Met makes quite a point that these suggestive paintings do not indicate untoward sexual taste; to this dilettantish observer they incriminate just a wee bit.
The most famous, and beautiful painting within del Monte’s collection was the aforementioned Musicians.
In addition to the band of musical boys we have,
Kimbell Art Museum
The cast of characters within this collection is consistent, I have read the boys who served as models may have been part of the Cardinal’s domestic household. Whether street urchin or livery boy they proved fetching to dear Caravaggio and the Cardinal.
Caravaggio would of course go on to paint a slew of moody marvels, but he returned to the Ephebes from time to time; often as the sainted Baptist, with or without that itchy fur loincloth.
The following has always creeped me out a bit, a bit too nude, too young, too frankly sexual. The ram just a bit too lusty.
St John the Baptist ( Youth with Ram)
Somehow Caravaggio manages to sex up blessed Francis,
Valiant David receives the Caravaggio treatment as well,
It is often noted how fond Caravaggio was of inserting his own gnarly visage into his work, perhaps this is our Michelangelo vanquished by his appetites.
b. 29 September 1571
d. 18 July 1610 (38!)
portrait by Ottavio Leoni 1621
Until next time,