Street Caravaggio II
Last month I posted about an amazing chalk mural of Caravaggio’s St. John the Baptist. This was my introduction to the work of the Madonnari Pugliesi and I was happy when I received an email from one of them on Friday saying they were doing a new mural over the weekend and I should come by to say hello. One of the unexpected surprises of doing this blog has been all the interesting people I’ve ended up meeting in Rome, which is not something I expected to happen in the beginning, but am quite happy it did.
I headed down to the via del Corso on Saturday and found Para’ and Francesco hard at work on the mural. This time they were doing Caravaggio’s The Calling of St. Matthew, which is one of my favorites and is located in the church of San Luigi dei Francesi. Para’ had done the St. John the Baptist on his own, but the complexity of this piece called for a helping hand, so Francesco came up from Bari to assist. I watched them work, took some photos, and got to chat with them a bit about what they do. Both graduated from the fine arts academy in Bari and worked as artists in their own right before getting into the art of the madonnari about six years ago. I wasn’t aware of this before taking the photos, but street painters are called madonnari in Italy because their work often depicts the Madonna. While working in Rome they do a lot of Caravaggio, they spend a lot of time in Puglia doing depictions of the Madonna for various religious festivals. Francesco also works as a teacher in Bari, working with special needs children, while Para’ has found moving his art to the streets has given him renewed energy through contact with the crowds who gather to watch them work.
The day was beautiful, the sun was shining, and I left my umbrella at home. Big mistake. Shortly after Francesco finished the face of Christ, which you see above, storm clouds began to gather. We assured each other it was just a fluke and the rest of the sky was blue, but sure enough it started to rain about 10 minutes later. I tried my best to help as gusts of wind blew through and scattered about everything and we managed to get one big tarp over the main group of figures. Unfortunately the Christ could not be saved, which you can see in the last photo. As quickly as it had come in, the storm went out and the sun again began to shine. The masses returned to via del Corso and the guys began to pat down the damp areas and start again, which you see in the top photo. The life of a madonnaro is not easy, but they were not too discouraged and would soldier on the finish. At that point I had to go and didn’t get to make it back to see the entire thing completed, but I had a great afternoon with two extremely talented and extremely nice souls. If you are on the via del Corso and see them at work, stop by and say hello. You’ll find them next to the breakdancers!