Wine & Art - Caravaggio and a Vino Sfuso
Updated: Feb 14
Caravaggio, what wine do I pair with a Caravaggio?
A rare one? An odd one? An aggressive one? A winemaker whose being a bit of a rebel? Doing something a little different?
To be honest, when I think of paintings by Caravaggio, I pretend I'm still back living in Florence, I want to pop down to a local Vino Sfuso and fill up my empty wine bottles for just a few euros and be completely happy.
Perhaps I'm missing living in Italy, but I can't really see past a really musty basic wine for this painting. So instead of matching this with a specific wine, I'm matching it with a holiday to Florence and grabbing a cheap bottle of red.
Caravaggio's The Supper at Emmaus
This painting needs a wine you've only paid a few euros for, and a wine from a Vino Sfuso is just perfect, not knowing really what's inside, but your happy with the bargain none the less.
And with a glass of pretty basic rustic wine, take yourself into the painting and believe that you're really sat down there with these men.
Because that's why this paintings just so important and impressive, it really does feel like you're really there.
This is another piece you'll find at the National Gallery, and was produced in 1601. It shows four men at a dining table, it seems they have just started the meal but have been interuppted with some news the man in the centre has shared. This is Jesus, and it shows the point he has just revealed himself to two of his disciples, possibly Luke and Cleopas.
Cleopas is the one on the right of the painting, his arms stretched out wide. I love how the artist has perfectly portrayed his crispy cream sleeves of his shirt, the smooth ends of his finger tips, almost reaching us, with the light reflecting so realistically off them. He wears quite a noticeable scallop shell of a pilgrim, illuminated from the light coming from the left hand side of the painting.
The man in the bottom left, with his elbows pointing out towards us as he gets ready to lift himself out of his seat in shock, makes us notice the humble surroundings, the basic, torn clothes of the two unshaved seated gentlemen.
The fourth figure, the standing groom, doesn't quite fit in the picture and he doesn't seem to have really registered what's going on. To me he looks likes he's day dreaming, doing that thing when you stare at the person speaking, but you're not listening to a word what they're saying, but instead completing looking through them. Having worked in restaurants for many years, I can't help but think of the times when I've been over to a table to ask them if they want something to drink, another bottle of wine perhaps, but they haven't even registered I'm there...or they do, and they carry on their conversation again. And I'm left there, staring into space, waiting for them to decide, patiently mind you.
But they're fine for water, and their wines topped up, have a look at the way Caravaggio's portrayed the water jug on the table and the glass of wine just poking out behind (it seems they've gone for an interesting orange wine to go with the chicken). And closer to us, notice the bowl of fruit, teetering on the edge of the table, adding more suspense and action into the scene as it balances quite procariously.
You can just feel that Caravaggio has portrayed the real height of drama the painting, Jesus has just given them this unbelievable piece of information and the two men look completely taken back, almost ready to argue that it can't be true.
This is certainly helped by the artists clever use of light, which he does time and time again in a number of his paintings. Suspense is further added with the almost theatrical lighting, lighting up important parts of the painting, highlighting the characters faces, yet casting shadow into other parts adding to the sense of mystery.
And his paintings have become known and loved for his dramatic use of light, the sometimes intense unsettling realism of his subjects, which often reflect the man himself. He was known as an extremely arrogant man, often wandering round looking for a fight it would seem, brandishing his sword at a time when having a sword was actually illegal without a license! But his behaviour didn't go unnoticed, he was arrested time and time again, and more often that not for his violent outburst. From getting into fights, abusing the police, and my particular favourite, throwing a plate of artichokes at a servant.
"Caravaggio's technique was as spontaneous as his temper. He painted straight onto the canvas with minimal preparation. Sometimes he abandoned a disappointing composition and painted new work over the top. Much to the horror of his critics, he used ordinary working people with irregular, rough and characterful faces as models for his saints and showed them in recognisably contemporary surroundings. " Taken from the National Gallery biography of the artist.
But it seems his temper soon got the better of him, and in 1606 he got into an argument with a young man which escalated into a sword fight. Carravaagio stabbed him, though probably not intending to kill him, and he later died of his wounds. Caravaggio went on the run.
But it seems he had planned the next turn of events rather well. He eventually arrived on the island of Malta, and in return for his painting Beheading of St John the Baptist, he was granted membership as a Knight of Malta, thus being in a good position to seek papal pardon for the murder.
Everything seemed to get back on track for Caravaggio, but soon that temper of his once again got the better of him. He got into a fight with another knight and found himself in prison. He managed to escape, but was expelled from the order.
He was eventually pardoned after a few more run ins (friends in high places), but sadly on his return, which was full of events in itself, he fell ill and sadly died.
I do urge you to take a look at this painting in the gallery, and once home, do pour a glass of something cheap and cheerful and raise a glass to one of my favourite artists, to the great Caravaggio.
Heard in London