Book received from Corvus through Book Geeks.
Rome in 1605 is a place where powerful families are in competition with each other and not even the Pope has enough power to control everybody and everything. In a world where the mighty live in grand palazzos, surrounded by wealth, Caravaggio is a painter and as such considered a lowly craftsman.
Although Caravaggio’s work is starting to attract attention he lives in a place called “the Evil Garden”. A place called home by prostitutes, beggars and others on the lowest rungs of society. In this world Caravaggio’s days are divided between his art and drink, gambling and knife-fights. It is a world in which is easy to make enemies and Caravaggio finds himself on the wrong side of Ranuccio Tomassoni, the son of a powerful family.
But, when Caravaggio is invited to paint the new Pope it seems his luck has changed. And meeting and falling for Lena, a low-born fruit-seller seems to even give him a fleeting chance at happiness.
But Caravaggio is not the sort of person who can accept his blessings and be happy. Haunted by ghosts from his past and a determination to create his paintings according to his own vision, without concern for the conventions of the day, he constantly balances between acceptance and condemnation.
When he finally kills his rival, not even Caravaggio’s powerful friends can protect him from the dead-sentence now hanging over his head.
Leaving behind the woman he loves, the painter flees to Malta in the hope that acceptance into the Order of Malta may save his life. But even that far away from home his past as well as new enemies continue to make his life a delicate balancing act.
This is a fascinating book.
The descriptions of Caravaggio’s paintings, his passion for his work and the turmoil in his private life all come together to create a very vivid picture.
The historical setting comes alive on the pages of this book. You can see and smell the rot in the Evil Garden and picture the grandeur of the palazzos and cathedrals.
Caravaggio is clearly a very troubled man and while initially I found myself wondering why he seemed so determined to put himself in danger and risk the success that appeared to be within his reach, by the end of the book I felt I understood the man and his need to protect what he considered to be his honour.
Matt Rees has a clever way with words. I’m not very familiar with Caravaggio’s work, but I imagine that the darkness and shadows that appear in the painter’s work had a great deal to do with the way in which this story was told. I always had the feeling that there were things hiding in the background; things I couldn’t quite see but could feel under the surface, threatening to catch up with the main character.
Caravaggio, of course, disappeared in July 1610 and although it was rumoured that he died of a fever, his body was never found.
Matt Rees, in this book, presents the reader with a cause of death and a reason for the painter’s demise that for me, after reading the whole book, is both believable and heartbreaking.
The story in this book captured me, although I can’t escape the feeling that I might have gotten to a greater understanding for the story and Caravaggio’s character if I had a better knowledge of his work.
I think this is a book that would be greatly enjoyed by those who enjoy a good historical thriller as well as those who love art, especially Caravaggio’s work.