There are fewer than 10 paintings by Caravaggio on view in the entire United States. This summer, one of them is in Dallas. Yesterday, the Dallas Museum of Art unveiled Martha and Mary Magdalene (c. 1598), on loan from the Detroit Institute of Arts, residing among the Dallas museum’s Old Master collection through September 22.
Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, active from 1592-1610, was a leader of the 17th-century Baroque movement. His incredibly dramatic scenes are renowned for their lifelike depiction of light and shadow, making the Italian artist’s name synonymous with chiaroscuro. He was also an infamous brawler and accused murderer. His untimely death at age 38 remains shrouded in mystery.
One of his earliest masterpieces, The Cardsharps (1595), an image of a wealthy boy being cheated during a game of cards, is part of the Kimbell Art Museum’s permanent collection in Fort Worth. A few years after the creation of that work, Caravaggio became one of the most famous painters in Rome through his religious artwork. Martha and Mary Magdalene is an early example of this pivotal period in his career.
The painting illustrates the spiritual awakening of Mary Magdalene, who the Catholic Church then considered a prostitute. Her sister Martha passionately convinces her to convert, counting the reasons on her hand. Martha is mostly in the shadows, only her hands catching the light, while Mary radiates a heavenly glow in the center of the painting.
The exhibition of the painting in Dallas was curated by Julien Domercq, the DMA’s new Lillian and James H. Clark Assistant Curator of European Art. Part of his job is to energize and reinterpret the presentation of the museum’s Old Master Collection. This is the first exhibition project at the DMA for Domercq, who previously served as a curatorial fellow at the National Gallery in London.
The painting is included in the DMA’s free general admission. You can learn more about the life and art of Caravaggio at Arts & Letters Live on July 16 at 7:30 p.m., a Gallery Talk with Julien Domercq on August 7 at 12:15 p.m., and an Exhibition Talk with Eve Straussman-Pflanzer on September 19 at 7 p.m.