On this exclusive VIP Rome tour, you will visit a top-of-the-top Restoration Lab in the heart of Rome city center, accompanied by one of the chief restorers of the laboratory. You will also enter the world of the Baroque master Caravaggio – the painter who electrified and scandalized early 17th century Rome leaving an incredible artistic legacy that continues to inspire painters, photographers and movie directors today.
An expert local guide, with a background in the history of art, will accompany you all the way during this VIP Rome Tour of the city center along the path of Caravaggio, for an exciting itinerary that we have divided into two parts:
You will walk the Caravaggio path in Rome city center, which goes from the church of St Mary of the People located in Piazza Piazza del Popolo (also our meeting point) to the famous church of St Louis of the French, with an important stop at the Church of St Augustine. All these three churches contain some of Caravaggio’s greatest masterpieces, including the St Matthew paintings and the striking Madonna dei Pellegrini, which has long been a favorite of the people of Rome — one of Caravaggio’s paintings restored by the lab that you will visit during the second section of the tour. Seize the opportunity to admire these masterpieces in the very context in which they were created and learn about Caravaggio’s tumultuous life and work, as you prepare for the second exciting part of this exclusive Vip Rome Tour.
At the end of the Caravaggio path, your guide will take you famous restoration lab in Rome city center, which has restored paintings of Renaissance and Italian masters such as Caravaggio, Tintoretto, Raphael and many more. One of the paintings by Caravaggio they restored is the famous Madonna dei Pellegrini, or Pilgrim’s Lady, that you will have the chance to admire during the first part of this tour. You’ll enjoy a behind-the-scenes special tour of the lab, and learn about the techniques and knowledge required to restore artworks to their original glory – an unmissable opportunity for art lovers. You will experience how to create the colors used to repair Renaissance paintings, or how to clean the surface of 500 years old masterpieces and bring them back to the original splendor, right in front of your eyes, and look through famous paintings with the x-ray machine used to investigate hidden layers. You will talk to the restorer of masterpieces that have made the history of art and ask them all your questions and curiosities.
Don’t miss the opportunity to join Roma Experience’s original and unique Restoring Caravaggio: VIP Rome Tour Experience.
We begin our Rome art tour in Piazza del Popolo, a magnificent square not far from the Spanish Steps. While Piazza del Popolo is worth visiting in itself for its neoclassical splendor, Egyptian obelisk and fountains, the main attraction is undoubtedly its church St Mary of the People or Santa Maria del Popolo.
The church of Santa Maria del Popolo has an ancient and intriguing history, as you’ll discover on the tour. According to legend, the church’s origins involve the tomb of Nero, a demon-possessed walnut tree, and an exorcism. Santa Maria del Popolo was consecrated in 1477 and underwent numerous reconstructions over the centuries, while artists such as Bernini and Caravaggio contributed to its grandeur.
It is the works of Caravaggio that make Santa Maria del Popolo a highlight of this VIP Rome tour. There are two of his greatest masterpieces on display on the Cerasi Chapel – The Crucifixion of St Peter and Conversion on the Way to Damascus, both of which were painted in 1600-01.
The Crucifixion of St Peter is a stark and sombre painting showing the elderly saint being raised on a crucifix that is positioned upside down, in order to avoid imitating Christ; three men struggle to raise him as if struggling under the weight of their crime.
The dramatic Conversion on the Way to Damascus captures the moment that the apostle Paul is overcome by the Holy Spirit and falls from his horse. The unusual composition means that at first glance the horse seems to dominate the painting, but look closely and you’ll see that Paul’s presence is the most powerful of all, illuminating the darkness.
On the other side of Piazza Navona is the church of St Augustine (Sant’Agostino), a Renaissance basilica home to another Caravaggio masterpiece – the Madonna dei Pellegrini, also known as the Madonna di Loreto.
It’s difficult to imagine today just how controversial the painting was when it was first unveiled. By early 17th standards, this painting was scandalous, depicting a barefoot, down-to-earth Virgin Mary standing in the doorway of a house in a poor neighborhood. For the Romans who came to see the painting, it must have seemed more reminiscent of local prostitutes than traditional representations of the mother of Christ.
Caravaggio’s genius lay in depicting moments of dramatic tension in the context of the recognizable, every-day city. Instead of putting religious figures on a pedestal, he presents them surrounded by ordinary people, narrowing the divide between the sacred and the profane.
It’s no wonder that over time, the Madonna dei Pellegrini has become “the people’s painting”, particularly beloved by Romans.
This is one of the Maestro’s works that has been restored by the lab you will visit during the second Tour Section 2.
Our next stop on this unique Caravaggio tour is a beautiful Baroque church close to the Pantheon and Piazza Navona. St Louis of the French (San Luigi dei Francesi) has ancient origins but was not completed until the 15th century, thanks to the intervention of the Medici family. This ornate church was enriched even further by the addition of a series of paintings by Caravaggio depicting incidents in the life of St Matthew.Call of St Matthew (1599-1600)
The Calling of St Matthew is one of Caravaggio’s best-known masterpieces, showing the moment of Matthew’s epiphany, as he’s inspired to follow Christ. We see Christ emerging from the darkness, entering a gloomy tax-collectors’ room, and pointing at Matthew. But who is Matthew? Traditionally, the bearded man who seems to point at himself (“Me?”) has been identified as Matthew, but recently a critic has suggested that Matthew is, in fact, the young man slumped over at the end of the table, who is being pointed at by the bearded man (“Him?”) This ambiguity is just one example of how rich and mysterious Caravaggio’s work is.
Next there’s The Inspiration of St Matthew, which Caravaggio painted to replace a more controversial version that seemed to imply that St Matthew needed a little too much help from the angel. In this version there’s a greater distance between the saint and the angel; St Matthew rushes to his desk, filled with divine inspiration, while the angel offers encouragement from above.
The third painting, The Martyrdom of St Matthew, is often overlooked in favor of the neighboring paintings, but it’s a powerful work that caused a sensation when it first went on display. By admiring these three masterpieces together on an in-depth art tour of Rome City Center, you can appreciate Caravaggio’s genius on a deeper level, and understand why he caused an artistic revolution. You will then be ready to enter a world-class restoration lab and see and learn how art masterpieces of this caliber are restored to their original glory and beauty.
To understand what Baroque is, come to Rome. The Eternal City is the birthplace of Baroque, and on your Rome city center tour you’ll be surrounded by Baroque masterpieces, from the ornate church of St Louis the French to the Trevi Fountain.
The Baroque style had a religious function; the Roman Church knew that art had the power to surprise and inspire people, and so the bigger, the better. In the baroque aesthetics, art must aim at surprising the viewer and make him/her believe. This is why the Baroque is inherently theatrical in nature and Rome can be quite resembled to a theatre stage. Every church, piazza, street or urban space becomes a choreography carefully staged, where there is an unending show going on right now, right here, in front of the eyes of the stunned viewers. This is why Bernini’s statues or Caravaggio’s masterpieces are so dramatic, dramatic in its original and narrative sense, and so capable to establish an emotional link with the viewers. Another characteristic of the Baroque is the excess. It is easy to see how any form of excess is able to impress, surprise, convince and make you – the mesmerized viewer – suspend your disbelief.
Bernini was the master of Baroque when it came to sculptures – Apollo and Daphne, The Rape of Proserpina, The Ecstasy of St Teresa – but for paintings, the winner is undoubtedly Caravaggio. His intensely dramatic paintings and use of chiaroscuro as a dominating style had a profound influence on the Baroque movement, which was only just beginning. (For those who wants to visit a stunning collection of Baroque masterpieces, including works by Bernini and Caravaggio, Roma Experience also offers tours of the Borghese Gallery.)
On this exclusive Rome tour you’ll gain an in-depth understanding of the Baroque movement, learning about key artists such as Bernini and Caravaggio, and exploring the powerful connections between art and religion.
Doctors heal people, restorers heal the wounds of masterpieces that have often been suffering neglection or the passing of time for hundreds of years. If today we are able to admire the Sistine Chapel and many other art masterpieces in all their glory and beauty it is because of the painstaking patience of art restorers, people who have often dedicated their life to this amazing work — much more than a profession.
The museums, galleries and churches of the Eternal City are full of timeless masterpieces, some of which have been on display for centuries. In order to keep the paintings in good condition, so that they can be enjoyed by future generations, complex restoration work is sometimes necessary.
As you’ll discover on this unique VIP Rome tour, restoration work is an art in itself, which requires painstaking patience and expertise. One key task is to clean paintings, restoring the colors to their original glory. This involves removing the yellowing varnish that coats the surface of the painting, which can only be done after exhaustive tests to find exactly the right chemical. Using the wrong chemical could lead to irreparable damage, so even when the varnish removal begins, the conservator will work slowly, starting at the edges of the painting and then gradually moving towards the center. It’s also essential not to over-clean, however – great artworks such as Leonardo da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi have suffered this fate.
Restoration work can be controversial. A famous example is the painstaking restoration of Michelangelo’s frescoes in the Sistine Chapel; many artists and art critics were unhappy with techniques used, pointing out that some colors were becoming too garish, and that subtle details were being eliminated by over-enthusiastic restoration. A small but vocal minority is opposed to any kind of restoration work altogether, arguing not only that there are always inherent risks in restoration, but also that it’s impossible for the conservators to respect the artist’s intentions.
Nonetheless, the consensus is that cautious, respectful restoration work carried out by experts is essential for preserving the world’s masterpieces. Without the work of conservators, countless paintings would have been lost to the dirt and darkness of their slowly decaying canvases.
The most exciting part of this unique Vip Rome Tour experience is the opportunity to get privileged access to a top restoration lab in Rome. The conservators work closely with churches and galleries in Rome, helping to restore Renaissance and Baroque paintings to their original colours and brightness. Restoration work sometimes takes place on site; conservators worked on Caravaggio’s Madonna dei Pellegrini in the church of St Augustine, so “the people’s Caravaggio” was always on display. However, the majority of their work is carried out in the restoration lab in Rome.
This is an exclusive opportunity to see the experts at work. The conservators have been working together for more than 20 years, restoring paintings by Caravaggio, Raphael, Tintoretto, Canaletto and many more. During your art tour, you’ll learn more about the conservators’ experience and techniques, and have the opportunity to ask questions.
Visiting a restoration lab with such an impressive portfolio of artists is a truly unique experience in Rome. What better way to end your Caravaggio tour than with a visit to the place – and the people – that helped to bring his works back into the light?
Rome has been home all kinds of controversial characters and brilliant artists. Caravaggio is possibly the best example to describe the city’s highs and lows, its dark and light sides. Despite his early death at 39 Caravaggio was an incredibly prolific artist, who left Rome a rich art legacy. His genius ideas dramatically changed the art of painting and set the first stone towards what will be later known as the Baroque style.
Unlike most of the artists of his time he didn’t focus on portraying noblemen and clergymen – he preferred observing and transfering to canvas the daily life of ordinary people. He wanted his art to convey the emotion of witnessing the truth, observing its deep complexity in the figures of boys, prostitutes, poor people and old men.
What is behind Caravaggio’s daring attitude? Born as Michelangelo Merisi (1571-1610) he was later to be known as “Caravaggio”, the name of the village in which he was born. His early life was spent in Milan, where he painted still life canvas commissioned by the local clergy. But Caravaggio was also a man of the streets, who soon found himself involved in a brawl with a police officer. This had him fleeing to Rome to start anew, thanks to his first protector, the powerful Cardinal Francesco Maria del Monte, who commissioned him his first major work of religious art. The work included three canvases depicting three scenes from the life of St Matthew: The Calling, The Inspiration and the Martyrdom, which are hosted in the Church of San Luigi dei Francesi. These and his following masterpieces shows Caravaggio’s deep physical observation of the world around him, which he effectively portrayed with his dramatic use of chiaroscuro, a technique emoploying strong tonal contrasts between light and dark to model three-dimensional forms, to obtain a dramatic effect. Despite his great career in Rome, Caravaggio still led a tumultous life and in 1606 he, probably unintentionally, killed a man. After this event he was exiled and spent the following years in Naples, Malta and Sicily – his last years were spent running from one city to another, trying to get a papal pardon to be assured his return to Rome. Finally, in 1610, Pope Paul V began the process of granting his pardon and Caravaggio boarded a boat to return to Rome. Unfortunatley he never completed his journey. Caravaggio died under unknown circumstances in July 1610, after only a decade-long career. His body was never found.
As described above, during his early years in Rome Caravaggio met one of his first protectors, Cardinal Francesco Maria del Monte. His first commission of religious art involved creating three canvases, which depicted The Calling, The Inspiration and the Martyrdom of St. Matthew. This beautiful example of Caravaggio’s trademark techniques, “chiaroscuro”, can still be still found on the walls of the Contarelli Chapel in the Church of San Luigi dei Francesi.
Even more dramatic are two paintings dating to 1601, hosted by the church of Santa Maria del Popolo. These masterpieces are the Crucifixion of Saint Peter and The Conversion of Saint Paul on the Road to Damascus. Here Caravaggio’s use of chiaroscuroreached a deeper level and became what was later labelled as tenebrism, a technique where the contrast between dark and light was even more violent. For the first time in art history, an artist caught the essence of a biblical scene and decided to capture its most dramatic of moments. Caravaggio broke with tradition once more, when deleting the distance between the subject and the spectator, who was invited to become an eyewitness of the dramatic scene. This is why it’s so easy to be drawn into the two scenes and feel for the Apostle Peter, lifted in poor balance on an inverted cross or for St. Paul, at the feet of his horse, overcome with emotion for his sudden conversion to the word of Christ.
A short walk will take you to the Church of St Augustine, also included in the tour. Here you will discover another trait of Caravaggio’s personality: his rebellious, innovative side. The artist relentlessly strived towards total realism in art, thus rejecting the idealized way of portraying biblical figures. He often used peasants and even prostitutes as models for his paintings, to make the viewers feel closer to the subjects of his paintings. To understand this nothing is more effective than admiring Caravaggio’s Madonna di Loreto, displayed in the Church of Saint Augustine. Imagine the shock his contemporaries must have felt when, instead of a classic image of the Virgin Mary on a throne, they faced her standing on her bare feet, with a peasant who paid his respects to her kneeled and showing dirty soles!