A special private tour of Rome city center
bernini and Caravaggio Experience Rome Tour
Both an art tour and a city walk, our Caravaggio itinerary offers art lovers a rich, multi-layered experience. The tour combines a walk through the beautiful streets and piazzas of Rome's old center — including stops in Piazza Navona — with a Baroque-themed art treasure hunt. The grand churches, majestic fountains and many masterpieces you will see on this tour have all been touched by the magic hands of Bernini and Caravaggio, the two men of genius who revolutionized European painting and sculpture. Throughout it, not only will you discover the stories behind each work of art, you will also get to know, through the stories told by our expert guides, about the tumultuous and fascinating lives of the two Baroque masters.
Caravaggio - A rebel who rewrote the history of European painting
Caravaggio has been described in many ways. A genius with a dark side, an exquisite craftsman with a vision that transcended his time, a tormented soul who would risk reputation and life to follow his volatile temper. And in his case, it didn't matter whom you asked; both friends and foes agreed that the man who made the most striking paintings anyone had ever seen was all of that, and more.
Born in Milan, Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (1571-1610) came to Rome aged 21, at a time when the city was the art capital of the world. Having had to flee the north after a brawl involving a police officer, he entered the workshop of a famous painter, the Pope's favorite. During this time Caravaggio met one of his first protectors, the influential Cardinal Francesco Maria del Monte, who brought him the first major commission of religious art. The three canvases he painted, which depict The Calling, The Inspiration and the Martyrdom of St. Matthew, are masterpieces of lighting, in which Caravaggio made full use of chiaroscuro, a technique he perfected and made his trademark. The works, among the most well-known by the Baroque artist, are still found on the walls of the Contarelli Chapel in the Church of San Luigi dei Francesi, in the original location where Caravaggio envisioned them. Upon entering the chapel, you will see how Caravaggio used the way the beams of natural light fall on the paintings to create an even more dramatic, eerie effect.
But perhaps none of them is as dramatic as the next two paintings you will see on the tour, both painted in 1601, and hosted by the church of Santa Maria del Popolo. In the Crucifixion of Saint Peter and The Conversion of Saint Paul on the Road to Damascus, Caravaggio's use of tenebrism (a stronger version of chiaroscuro) and his mastering of narrative drama reached the height of his abilities. For the first time in the history of art, in painting biblical scenes, an artist captured their essence and chose to depict the most dramatic of moments. Moreover, Caravaggio broke with tradition and canceled the distance between the subject and the viewer, inviting the latter to become an eyewitness. That is why it is so easy to feel drawn into the two scenes, such as the one when Apostle Peter is lifted in poor balance on an inverted cross (so as not to imitate Jesus), or when Paul, at the feet of his horse, is overcome with emotion, his body almost entering the viewer's space.
Apart from his quick temper, which brought him many enemies, Caravaggio's attitude towards art was so different than that of his predecessors that it aroused in others a complex mix of awe and mistrust. Unlike other painters, perhaps inspired by northern painting traditions, he would not draw, preferring to paint straight on the canvas. What's more, he reportedly showed disdain towards the great masters, and when called on it would simply point out at people as to say nature had provided him with plenty of teachers.
One painting of Madonna and child, found in Church of St Augustine, also included in the tour, will bring you close to another trait of Caravaggio's personality: his rebellious, innovative spirit. In his devotion towards total realism in art, Caravaggio moved away from the idealized way of portraying biblical figures and used as models peasants and even prostitutes. In the Madonna di Loreto, true to his naturalistic approach to art, he made a point of painting the peasant who paid his respects to the virgin with dirty soles, shocking his contemporaries.
Having killed a man in a drink-fueled brawl, after living as a fugitive in Naples, Malta and Sicily where he kept on painting, Caravaggio died poor, aged only 38. But his formative influence on Baroque art and his legacy are still unparalleled.
Bernini - the man whose talent and vision transformed Rome
Unlike Caravaggio, Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1598 – 1680) lived a long and prodigious life and died surrounded by his family. His body is buried in St Mary Major (which we explore in our Papal Basilicas Experience Tour.) A child prodigy, the Naples-born Bernini begun sculpting when he was eight and continued to work until his last days with a fanatical devotion to his art. According to biographers, throughout his life he maintained a rigorous routine that would see him sleep and eat very little and spend as much as seven hours in a row working with his chisel on a block of marble. A devout Roman Catholic, he would attend mass every day and take communion twice a week.
However, this is not the whole story: similarly to Caravaggio, Bernini too had a tumultuous youth that saw him get in trouble with the law. In the latter's case, trouble invited itself through the door of his workshop when he fell in love with the wife of one of his assistants, Constanza Bonarelli. When her husband found out, Bernini openly insulted him but no harm ensued. However, when the artist suspected his brother might be involved with the woman he loved, he beat him badly and ordered that a servant slash her extremely beautiful face with a razor. Unlike in the case of Caravaggio, who died on his way to receive a pardon from the pope, Bernini's powerful friend Pope Urban VIII swiftly intervened and the perpetrator escaped with a fine.
Another rocky episode saw Bernini having to defend his professional prowess in front of his greatest rival, Francesco Borromini. After completing the first of two bell towers he built for Saint Peter's Basilica in the Vatican, its facade began cracking. Critics, headed by Borromini, were quick to point to Bernini, the chief architect of the basilica at the time. However, later investigations showed that the construction of the foundation, done by the previous architect, Carlo Maderno, had been flawed. Nonetheless, Bernini's reputation suffered and, to his great humiliation, the two towers were demolished.
However, except for this rare episode, Bernini's exceptional body of work left behind a very substantial legacy, both in architecture and sculpture, and singlehandedly wrote a new chapter in the history of art. His works, churches, squares and fountains, spread throughout Rome, forever transformed the face of the city.
Located in the popular Piazza del Popolo, the Augustinian church Santa Maria del Popolo that houses the works of Caravaggio is also home to two exceptional sculptures by Bernini. The striking expression of prophet Habakkuk and his exquisitely rendered clothes that fold in an extremely naturalistic way make Habakkuk and the Angel the attraction of the Chigi Chapel. Together with the second sculpture, Daniel and the Lion, placed in front of it, so as to allow the angel's outstretched finger to point at the prophet, it exemplifies Bernini's fondness of concetto, a master concept hidden behind all his masterpieces.
But nothing exemplifies better Bernini's complex vision than the iconic fountain he designed and placed in Piazza Navona. The Fountain of the Four Rivers, which incorporates an Egyptian obelisk and features four figures representing the four major rivers of the world, is undoubtedly Bernini's most spectacular public monument. According to legend, Bernini's design was chosen despite a plot by his detractors, after Pope Innocent X saw a model of the fountain that was placed by one of his friends in secret in the pope's palace.
When it comes to these two men of genius, their lives are as fascinating as their work. Our Amazing Caravaggio and Bernini Tour will give you an insight into both, against the background of Rome's iconic landmarks.
Further reading on Bernini's Ecstasy of St Therese.
Meeting Time: From Monday to Saturday at 4:00pm
Meeting Place at a Central Location in Rome (Full details provided after booking)