Feel Art Again: "Amor Vincit Omnia"

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In December, when the "Feel Art Again" feature on El Greco's "A Lady in a Fur Wrap" was re-posted, reader Miss Nae requested a post on Caravaggio. So, today we'll take a look at one of Caravaggio's secular paintings from 1602, "Amor Vincit Omnia" (Latin for "Love Conquers All").

1. Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio was actually born in Milan, and only moved to Caravaggio in 1576, when the artist was 5 years old, because a plague was ravaging Milan. If it hadn't been for that plague, we would probably know Caravaggio by a different name today.

2. In the painting, the Roman god Cupid is portrayed trampling symbols of all human activities (music, literature, war, astronomy, etc.), illustrating a line from Virgil's Eclogues: "Omnia vincit amor et nos cedamus amori." (In English, "Love conquers all; let us all yield to love.") Some people believe the painting may have also been referring to Vincenzo Giustiniani, who commissioned it. The musical manuscript on the floor bears a "V," and Giustiniani was accomplished in the areas of activity represented. In that case, the painting would also mean, "Vincenzo conquers all."

3. Caravaggio was quite the bad boy of the late-16th, early-17th century art world. He was well-known for his brawls, which resulted in several pages of police records and transcripts of trial proceedings. In 1606, he killed Ranuccio Tomassoni and was outlawed from Rome; he fled to Naples. He later received patronage and protection from the Knights of Malta, but it was short-lived. Apparently, he was in a fight in 1608 that resulted in a battered door and a seriously wounded knight. He was arrested in August and declared a "foul and rotten member" of the Knights of Malta.

4. "Amor Vincit Omnia" was the cause of a rivalry between Caravaggio and Giovanni Baglione. Vincenzo Giustiniani's brother, Cardinal Benedetto Giustiniani, commissioned a painting from Baglione not long after "Amor Vincit Omnia" was completed. Baglione's piece, "Divine and Profane Love" was believed to be of a similar style and theme as Caravaggio's piece. Caravaggio accused Baglione of plagiarism. After taunting from a friend of Caravaggio, Baglione painted a second version, using Caravaggio's face as the face of the devil. The feud continued until Caravaggio's death, after which the still perturbed Baglione wrote the first biography of Caravaggio.

5. Though "Amor Vincit Omnia" may not rank as one of the world's most famous paintings, it was quite popular in the early 17th century, inspiring three madrigals and a Latin epigram.

6. The specifics of Caravaggio's death are not very clear. While Caravaggio living in Naples, sometime between 1608 and 1610, Caravaggio the "famous artist" was reported dead. He was not dead, though an attempt had been made on his life, leaving his face seriously disfigured. On July 28, 1610, an anonymous avviso, or announcement, from Rome reported Caravaggio's death; a few days later, another avviso reported that he died of fever. However, his body was never found. A friend of Caravaggio later listed his death as July 18, which has been supported by recent research.

A larger version of the work can is available here.

'Feel Art Again' appears every Tuesday and Thursday.