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Rare Caravaggio masterpiece goes on display for a limited time in Texas

Rare Caravaggio masterpiece goes on display for limited time in Texas

Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, Martha and Mary Magdalene, c. 1598, oil and tempera on canvas
Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, Martha and Mary Magdalene, c. 1598, oil and tempera on canvas. Photo courtesy of Dallas Museum of Art

While visitors descend on the Dallas Museum of Art for its groundbreaking Dior fashion exhibition this summer, they also have the rare opportunity to see a 16th-century masterwork by Caravaggio.

Martha and Mary Magdalene (c. 1598, oil on canvas) is on loan to the DMA from the Detroit Institute of Arts from June 23 to September 22, 2019. It is such an important work that it gets displayed alone in a gallery space as its own exhibition "Caravaggio: Martha and Mary Magdalene," curated by Julien Domercq, the museum's new Lillian and James H. Clark Assistant Curator of European Art.

The painting depicts Mary Magdalene from the Bible — regarded by the Catholic Church at the time to be a prostitute — experiencing a spiritual awakening as her sister Martha counts on her fingers the reasons she should convert. "Caravaggio conveys the moment of Mary’s conversion — a challenging subject — through his treatment of light, which casts a divine glow on the reformed sinner," the museum explains in a release.

It is considered a masterpiece by Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (1571-1610), who was active in Italy between 1592 and 1610 and then became known as one of the greatest Baroque painters of the 17th century — along with Rubens, Velázquez, Rembrandt, and Poussin, the DMA reminds.

"He revolutionized painting and laid the foundation for 17th-century Baroque art through his theatrical compositions and gritty realism observed from life," the release says. "At the heart of Caravaggio’s groundbreaking style are his reduced color schemes, somber backgrounds, and dramatic lighting effects produced by sharp light and dark contrasts (chiaroscuro). The artist’s creation of a shallow, stage-like setting pushes the figures up close to the viewer, as though the event is unfolding in our own space and time."

Fewer than 10 paintings by Caravaggio are housed in the United States, on view in the collections of only six museums, the DMA says. It is included in free general admission at the Dallas museum.

Visitors can learn more about Caravaggio and this work in a series of public programs, including:

Arts & Letters Live: Caravaggio’s Life and Art. Domercq discusses Caravaggio’s painting Martha and Mary Magdalene. Then Andrew Graham-Dixon, one of the leading art critics and presenters of arts television, will discuss his acclaimed biography Caravaggio: A Life Sacred and Profane, which was shortlisted for the Samuel Johnson Prize for nonfiction and was a New York Times Notable Book. July 16, 7:30 pm.

Gallery Talk. A discussion about Caravaggio with the DMA's Domercq. August 7, 12:15 pm.

Exhibition Talk: Caravaggio's Revolutionary Road. Featuring Eve Straussman-Pflanzer, head of the European Art Department and Elizabeth and Allan Shelden Curator of European Paintings at the Detroit Institute of Arts. Event is sponsored by the Consulate General of Italy, Houston. September 19, 7 pm.