Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, the father of Baroque painting, shocked the upper class aesthetes of his day by drafting prostitutes and proletariats as models for his primarily Biblical subjects.
Ten years ago, under the direction of founder Ludovica Rambelli, eight members of the Italian company, Malatheatre, discovered first hand the insanely rigorous poses Caravaggio demanded of his models, creating 23 tableaux vivants inspired by the master’s oeuvre.
The company sought less to reproduce the paintings than the scene Caravaggio would have gazed on from behind his easel.
The 13 stagings in the video above make one aware of the intense physicality evident in Caravaggio’s work.
All those extended arms and inversions are agony for a model. After 30 seconds or so, even a sharply inclined neck or bent back can serve up a small taste of what it’s like to be crucified.
The result is exquisite. The eight players are not just extraordinarily fit specimens, they have clearly devoted much thought to the emotional life of each character they embody, sustaining the moment with great focus and determination.
The action unfolds in the suitably ancient setting of Naples’ Church of Santa Maria Donnaregina Nuova.
When not called upon to model, the performers become stage hands, helping each other to arrange the simple, well chosen props and flowing mantles.
(I enjoyed the small joke of a female Bacchus.)
Performed live to selections from Mozart, Bach, and Vivaldi, this company has settled on the Lux Aeterna section of Mozart’s Requiem to accompany their archival footage.
The next opportunity to see the show performed live will be in Naples on December 28.
Have a look at the video below, for some comparisons between the original paintings and the 13 tableaux vivants seen in the video:
The Entombment of Christ
Mary Magdalene in Ecstasy,
Crucifixion of Saint Peter
The Beheading of St John the Baptist
Judith Beheading Holofernes
Flagellation of Christ
The Martyrdom of Saint Matthew
Rest on the Flight into Egypt
The Raising of Lazarus
Saint Francis of Assisi in Ecstasy
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Ayun Halliday is a former artist’s model turned author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine. Join her in NYC on Monday, November 12 for another monthly installment of her book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain. Follow her @AyunHalliday.