Cerasi chapel, Santa Maria del Popolo, Rome

   The success of the Contarelli Chapel at San Luigi dei Francesi in Rome resulted in further public commissions for Caravaggio, including the Cerasi Chapel. Here, Caravaggio had the opportunity to work alongside Annibale Carracci who painted the altarpiece titled the Assumption of the Virgin. The chapel belonged to Monsignor Tiberio Cerasi, treasurer general to Clement VIII. His friend Marchese Vincenzo Giustiniani, who purchased Caravaggio's rejected altarpiece for the Contarelli Chapel, acted as the adviser on the project. Caravaggio painted two scenes: the Crucifixion of St. Peter and Conversion of St. Paul. A precedent already existed for this juxtaposition—the Pauline Chapel at the Vatican by Michelangelo (1542-1550). The Crucifixion of St. Peter places the saint in a diagonal toward the altar. He is depicted as a strong, muscular figure to denote the strength of the Christian church he founded. The Conversion of St. Paul shows the apparition that caused the saint to embrace Christianity as a dramatic burst of light that corresponds to that entering the chapel in the afternoon hours. Having fallen off his horse, Paul extends his arms in a Hebrew gesture of prayer, while the animal's caretaker remains in the dark and is oblivious of the miraculous event unfolding. As in the Crucifixion, St. Paul is placed in a diagonal that directs the viewer's attention to the altar. These two paintings, with their dramatic chiaroscuro, theatrical gestures, crude figure types, rich Venetianized palette, and dark, undefined backgrounds, provide a major contrast to Annibale's Assumption .Annibale's work takes place in a well-defined outdoor setting, populated by a large number of figures, with more subdued chiaroscuro. While Caravaggio depicted nature with all its imperfections and the other-worldly only as light, Annibale had no qualms about showing the Virgin on a cloud being raised up to heaven by cherubs. This serves to illustrate the vastly different approaches of the two major figures of the early Baroque era.

Historical dictionary of Renaissance art. . 2008.

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