Caravaggio Opera Omnia @ National Art Gallery

What is the difference between looking at a painting, and an image of a painting? A huge difference, it seems. I walk briskly within Galeri 3A to see its life-sized backlit projections of Caravaggio paintings, pausing only occasionally to reminisce on how some exhibits look better in real life. Produced as a collaboration between the KL Italian Embassy and the National Art Gallery, this travelling show of reproductions is undeniable a crowd-puller, and a cultural export exercise. With the Italian artist’s distinct style, his dramatic life story, and less than 50 surviving authenticated works, many visitors would be familiar with these images. What can we learn from these backlit pictures – is it the scale in compositions? The drawing of muscles, and facial textures? The oscuro (i.e. darkening of shadows)?

Exhibition Snapshot of San Matteo e angelo (1602)

To better understand chiaroscuro – the style Caravaggio is famous for – and his application of coloured oils, one has to look elsewhere. As a pilgrim to the Cappella Contarelli, I had knelt in front of ‘The Inspiration of Saint Matthew’ and prayed the rosary. The red of the saint’s robes, the abyss underneath the table, and the flesh tones of the angel, have a significantly deeper hue, than the one displayed here in Balai’s gallery. Even ‘Boy With A Basket of Fruit’, with its glowing neck and almost 3-D projection of exquisite fruits, looks like a virtual reality replica from the painting hanging at the Galleria Borghese. These pictures are diluted, and the textbook descriptions that accompany it, add up to a dull walkthrough. Perhaps, the real difference is that I am lucky to have experienced Caravaggio’s works in real life, and seeing backlit replicas of it, just will not cut it.

Exhibition Snapshot of Cattura di Cristo nell' orto (1602)